7.5

Iris DeMent: The Trackless Woods Review

Music Reviews Iris DeMent
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Iris DeMent: <i>The Trackless Woods</i> Review

By this point, Iris DeMent has been writing music for more than half her life. The 54-year-old singer released her debut Infamous Angel in 1992 to praise from the country, folk and Americana scenes, and her sophomore effort My Life even earned her a Grammy nomination. But in her 27 years of songwriting, DeMent has never attempted a project quite like The Trackless Woods before.

The Trackless Woods, just the songwriter’s sixth LP, encompasses 18 poems by the late Anna Akhmatova that DeMent set to music. The Russian poet survived the Bolshevik Revolution, both World Wars and Joseph Stalin’s regime, and her works often reflect the terrors and tragedies of conflicts. As such, DeMent uses much of The Trackless Woods to focus on the words of translators Babette Deutsch and Lyn Coffin.

Having recorded The Trackless Woods in her own Iowa home, DeMent brings an air of a parlour music to these interpretations; none of the 18 tracks consist of more instrumentalists than would comprise a chamber group. In fact, DeMent usually warbles softly and accompanies herself with just piano or guitar like on the assertive opening “To My Poems,” or with a harpsichord on “Lot’s Wife.” However, “From An Airplane” takes a distinctly American turn, musically breaking up the lyrical sentimentality and contemplation with a mandolin solo over a honky-tonk piano line. Later, “Listening To Singing” could be a traditional country song sung on an old Southern-style porch.

As a collection, The Trackless Woods can be an overwhelming, multi-sensory hour of a listen. The nasally, Joanna Newsom-like timbre of DeMent’s soprano may not please all ears, and the lyrical content may dictate how frequently one can stomach the heartache. But mostly, it’s just an intense record, one that beckons listeners to sit down with the liner notes and lyrics, much like the canon of poetry off of which it’s based.