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Iris DeMent

On her transcendent new record, Workin' On A World, Iris DeMent faces the modern world — as it is right now — with its climate catastrophe, pandemic illness, and epidemic of violence and social injustice — and not only asks us how we can keep working towards a better world, but implores us to love each other, despite our very different ways of seeing. Her songs are her way of healing our broken inner and outer spaces.

With an inimitable voice as John Prine described, "like you've heard, but not really,"  and unforgettable melodies rooted in hymns, gospel, and old country music, she's simply one of the finest singer-songwriters in America as well as one of our fiercest advocates for human rights. Her debut record Infamous Angel, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, was recently named one of the “greatest country albums of all time” by Rolling Stone, and the two albums that followed, My Life and The Way I Should, were both nominated for GRAMMYs. From there, DeMent released three records on her own label, Flariella Records, the most recent of which, The Trackless Woods(2015), was hailed as “a quietly powerful triumph” by The Guardian. DeMent’s songs have also been featured in film (True Grit) and television (The Leftovers)and recorded by numerous artists. Fittingly, she received the Americana Music Trailblazer Award in 2017.

Workin' On A World, her seventh album, started with the worry that woke DeMent up after the 2016 elections: how can we survive this? “Every day some new trauma was being added to the old ones that kept repeating themselves, and like everybody else, I was just trying to bear up under it all,” she recalls. She returned to a truth she had known since childhood: music is medicine. “My mom always had a way of finding the song that would prove equal to whatever situation we were facing. Throughout my life, songs have been lending me a hand. Writing songs, singing songs, putting them on records, has been a way for me to extend that hand to others.”

With grace, courage, and soul, Iris shares 13 anthems — love songs, really — to and for our broken inner and outer worlds. DeMent sets the stage for the album with the title track in which she moves from a sense of despair towards a place of promise. “Now I’m workin’ on a world I may never see / Join in’ forces with the warriors of love / Who came before and will follow you and me.”

She summons various social justice warriors, both past and present, to deliver messages of optimism. “How Long” references Martin Luther King, while “Warriors of Love” includes John Lewis and Rachel Corrie. “Goin’ Down To Singin Texas” is an ode not only to gun control, but also to the brave folks who speak out against tyranny and endure the consequences in an unjust world. “I kept hearing a lot of talk about the arc of history that Dr. Kings famously said bends towards justice, ”she recalls. “I was having my doubts. But, then it dawned on me, he never said the arc would magically bend itself. Songs, over the course of history, have proven to be pretty good arc benders.”

 

Ana Egge

Ana Egge is a singer-songwriter and apprentice luthier from Brooklyn, NY. She has released 13 studio albums, playing her homemade guitar. Egge’s music has been praised by critics for its honesty, vulnerability, and beauty. She was born in Canada, and raised in North Dakota, and has toured extensively throughout North America and Europe. Egge is the subject of a 2015 documentary film, Bright Shadow. She has been featured in Billboard, Rolling Stone, and on NPR to name a few. Lucinda Williams calls her “the folk Nina Simone.”

Egge’s newest album, “Sharing in the Spirit,” is a collection of songs that touch on politics, addiction, sex, and love. The album was produced by Lorenzo Wolff following their previous collaboration, 2021’s “Between Us.”

The album opens with “Don’t You Sleep,” a civil rights celebration of hope and hard work. “Where Berries Grow” is a biblical, bluegrass beauty about people Ana has loved and known. The album also touches on addiction and sobriety, with songs like “Mission Bells Moan” and an adapted cover of the classic “Sorry You’re Sick,” by Ted Hawkins. The final track and first single is sung in tribute, “Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” penned by the late, great Sinead O’Connor.

“Sharing in the Spirit” is an addictive mix of fearless strength and an almost childlike sense of fun. Seen in the cover photograph of Ana driving her minibike at the age of five and in the back cover photo where Ana revisits her childhood home of Ambrose, North Dakota, now a ghost town where the streets have been reclaimed by prairie grass. The music inside is a dream born from dreams.

Bending inward, DeMent reaches agilely under the slippery surface of politics. She grapples with loss on the deeply honest “I Won’t Ask You Why,” while encouraging compassion over hate in the awe-inspiring “Say A Good Word.”  Album closer“Waycross, Georgia,” encompasses the end of the journey, thanking those along the way. As she approaches subjects of aging, loss, suicide,and service, an arc of compassion elevated to something far beyond words is transmitted.  The delicate fierceness encompassed in the riveting power of her voice has somehow only grown over time.

Stalled partway through by the pandemic, the record took six years to make with the help of three friends and co-producers: Richard Bennett, Pieta Brown, and Jim Rooney. It was Pieta Brown who gave the record its final push. “Pieta asked me what had come of the recordings I’d done with Jim and Richard in 2019 and 2020. I told her I’d pretty much given up on trying to make a record. She asked would I mind if she had a listen. So, I had everything we’d done sent over to her, and not long after that I got a text, bouncing with exclamation marks: ‘You have a record and it’s called Workin’ On A World!’” With Bennett back in the studio with them, Brown and DeMent recorded several more songs and put the final touches on the record in Nashville in April of 2022.

The result is a hopeful album — shimmering with brilliant flashes of poignant humor and uplifting tenderness — that speaks the truth, “in the way that truth is always hopeful,” she explains.  Reflecting on the lyrics of the song “The Sacred Now” (“see these walls / let’s bring ‘em on down / it’s not a dream; it’s the sacred now”), DeMent is reminded of Jesus saying the Kingdom of God is within you and the Buddhist activist monk Thich Nhat Hanh saying the rose is in the compost; the compost is in the rose. On Workin’ On A World, Iris DeMent demonstrates that songs are the healing and the healing arises through song.

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The Kessler
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All Ages