Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Country-gospel chanteuse explores faith and Christianity, but Jesus isn't quite her homeboy

Arkansas-born Iris DeMent recorded three wondrous albums between 1992 and 1996, with 1994's landmark My Life conjoining the spiritual hunger and moral outrage of the other two--then her muse ran out. Eight years later, this country-gospel collection offers only one original. DeMent hasn't returned to Jesus "Once I started rereading the Book," she said, "I was reminded how many problems I had with it." But she finds enough inspiration in Christian forgiveness and love, and in the unstanchable musicality of white Southerners for whom church equaled culture, to revisit Christ's songs. Sober even when they're glad, these renditions won't move lifelong unbelievers the way they do a backslider like DeMent. But thank God they drew her magnificent voice into the studio again.

Blender, Jan. 2005