A voice so fine, everything stops
Iris DeMent and Greg Brown
Old St Paul's, Wellington
December 1 and 2
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
It really was something to hear Iris DeMent live - to hear that voice. So pure.
One of the finest country voices you could ever hope to hear. And there it was - you'd almost see it - hovering over the piano notes.
The country/folk singer from Arkansas could wring emotion from the phonebook in a song-setting.
You think of any great female country voice - from Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette through to Maria McKee and Alison Krauss - and DeMent has whispers of their sound in her voice.
But she has something else - an emotional honesty that combines, heartbreakingly, beautifully, to create songs that feel as if Daniel Johnston was writing for Loretta Lynn.
There she was bashing down at the piano to create a set of rolling, bluesy gospel vamps and she troweled on heavy sentiment, like Mama Was Always Tellin' Her Truth and Before the Colours Fade.
When she moved to the acoustic guitar it didn't get any lighter - with Easy's Gettin' Harder Every Day but it was every bit as moving.
Opening the evening was Greg Brown, a fine songwriter and arguably better known than DeMent, certainly in New Zealand - but it's our benefit that he and DeMent are husband and wife, so it was a two-for-the-price-of-one gig.
Brown's songs are funny, his growly blues voice a cleaned up Tom Waits, more Long John Baldry in fact.
And his transformation of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues was wonderful.
For many he was the star attraction, the reason to head out.
But I'm sure people were won over by Iris DeMent, her songs, the tradition, that sound.
When she starts singing it is as if everything else stops - a moment suspended in time.
The finest voice I've ever heard singing live.
The Dominion Post