Saturday, March 12, 2011

Iris DeMent(ia)

Golly, I love Iris DeMent --- even though I'd kind of forgotten that. This happens as you get older. But I've just pulled out all her CDs and there'll be a little reunion concert down here in the hills today. How could you not love that gorgeous clear voice?  (OK, maybe you have like "old" country, edging into to folk, to really fall in love.)

If you sit through the closing credits of the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" you can hear Iris's version of the old Gospel classic, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," and decide for yourself. Or you can poke the "play" button here and listen right now.

I got hooked on Iris when her first album, "Infamous Angel," was released in 1993. "My Life" followed in 1994 and "The Way I Should," in 1996. She hit a rough patch involving depression, etc., after that and didn't come back to recording until "Lifeline," a gospel mix, in 2004.

The frosting on the cake is that Iris is now a southern Iowa girl, having married our own folk troubadour, Wapello County native Greg Brown. I can't keep track of where everyone lives, you know, but believe the couple spend much of their time down near Eldon, southeast of Ottumwa.

I first heard Greg far too many years ago, now, not long after he returned to Iowa and to make ends meet went to work as a "resident artist," touring Iowa schools.

I'd have a hard time picking my favorite Iris song, but "Let the Mystery Be" comes close. Here it is:


Ed said...

I've always like Iris Dement too, my favorite being an album with a duet of her and my other favorite John Prine singing Angel From Montgomery.

I had no idea that she is married to Greg Brown. I've gone to a few of his concerts but he doesn't seem to come here very often and I suspect his song Fairfield didn't win him many friends among the Meditation community.

Frank D. Myers said...

No, I don't imagine the "floaters" were especially amused, but it is a funny song in a wicked sort of way.

Charles M. Wright said...

Frank, as a former church musician (keyboard) who got his start as a teen playing at the First Baptist Church in Russell in the 1950s, I enjoy your occasional reference to (and recorded performances of) old hymns. Especially the revival hymns like "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" that are seldom heard nowadays.

Your blog brought to memory a fact that I doubt many Lucas Countyans know. Twice in the diary of my Grandmother Mollie Goltry Wright (1868-1954), she refers to a childhood friend and schoolmate named Lewis Edgar Jones. It's not clear from her October 10, 1940 entry whether they attended school together in the town of Russell or at Hawkeye rural school. She wrote that her father "bought property in Russell and moved there so we children could go to school," because their farm home was too far from the closest country school. She states that was in 1875 and 1876 while the Hawkeye Schoolhouse was being built "for we started to school there in the Spring of 1876 after moving back to the farm." Recalling this brought to her mind her schoolmate Lewis Edgar Jones who composed the popular revival hymn "There is Power in the Blood."

Curious, I both Googled the name Lewis Edgar Jones and checked early Lucas County census reports. Sure enough, in the 1880 federal census of Washington Township, Lucas County, lived Lewis Edgar Jones, then fifteen, with his father Lewis W. Jones and mother Francis A. Jones. Lewis was born February 8, 1865 in Yates City, Illinois. It isn't known when his family arrived in Lucas County but in her diary, Grandmother Wright wrote that they left the county in December, 1889. One reference states that he penned his famous hymn in 1899 while at a church camp meeting at Mountain Lake Park, Maryland. Another states that he was a classmate of evangelist Billy Sunday at the Moody Bible Institute and that after graduating, he worked for the YMCA in Davenport, Iowa; Forth Worth, Texas (1915) and Santa Barbara, California (1925), and that "hymn writing was his avocation." Titles of five of his other hymns are: "I've Anchored in Jesus," "Lean on His Arms," "The Old Book Stands," "We Shall See the King Some Day," and "You Must Be Redeemed." He used the pseudonyms Lewis Edgar, Edgar Lewis and Mary Slater. Apparently no known photograph of the composer exists for several references to the composer appeal to anybody who may have a photograph to please submit it.

Lewis Edgar Jones died September 1, 1936 at Santa Barbara, California. He is buried at the Altoona Walnut Cemetery, Etowah County, Alabama. If you think you've never heard "There is Power in the Blood" check YouTube and listen to one of dozens of performances of his hymn. You'll even find a recording by Mahalia Jackson. But I recommend the rollicking versions of Lari White or Vestal Goodman.