Music Reviews: Iris DeMent, October 9, 1996
Iris DeMent: The Way I Should
Warner Bros.  File Under: Singer-songwriter goes country pop

cdwisIris DeMent’s startlingly simple debut, Infamous Angel, recalled the California-transplant alienation of Merle Haggard’s early work; its stark acoustic arrangement gave it a neo-folk sound. On her third recording, The Way I Should, the Arkansas-born, California-raised singer-songwriter has decided to reach out to contemporary country radio. This presents problems. DeMent’s songwriting is too old-fashioned–and often too personal and politically jaded–for the young-country sound, something that producer Randy Scruggs doesn’t always understand. There are several obvious miscalculations on this otherwise fine album, including the slick strings that accompany DeMent’s beautifully flawed voice on the opening cut, “When My Mornin’ Comes Around,” and the laughably dramatic, militaristic drumming on “There’s a Wall in Washington,” DeMent’s ode to the Vietnam War Memorial. But after those two disasters, The Way I Should turns true, with DeMent tackling everything from the folk rockin’ political commentary of “Wasteland of the Free” to the social satire of “Quality Time.” But the high point of The Way I Should is “Trouble,” a country-rocker duet between DeMent and R&B singer Delbert McClinton. It’s an edgy tune, and a fitting tribute to the kinds of alienation songs which inspired DeMent to become a songwriter in the first place. –Roberta Penn