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Randy Krbechek's Metronews
Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

February 12, 1997
Iris Dement Album Has Live Sound

Iris Dement Iris DeMent, The Way I Should (Warner Bros. 1996) - The third album from hillbilly songstress Iris DeMent (and the first with producer Randy Scruggs) leaps to a new plateau. Taking traditional country and bluegrass sentiments and mixing them with honest-to-God protest songs, The Way I Should is one of the best releases of the last 12 months.

Part of the beauty of The Way I Should is the album's live sound. Which isn't surprising, considering that the 11 tracks were recorded in only four days with six talented studio hands: Steuart Smith on guitar, Tammy Rogers on mandolin, cello and violin, Chuck Leavell on organ and keyboards, Dave Pomeroy on bass, John Jennings on acoustic guitar, and Harry Stinson on drums.

Though later mixed with contributions from such talents as Delbert McClinton and guitar legend, Mark Knopfler, the album retains the solid underpinnings of the live sessions.

According to Iris, the inspiration for The Way I Should came when she was working with country legend Merle Haggard on the recent Tulare Dust collection (a fine set of Haggard songs recorded by contemporary artists).

Iris says that Haggard gave her "a lot of great music and a lot of lessons I couldn't have learned anywhere else." More particularly, Haggard encouraged Iris to broaden her songwriting style to tell simple, but elegant, stories of people and places.

Iris Dement Add a dash of social protest, and you've got a great, shining talent. With her plaintive, honest delivery, DeMent doesn't let go until she has exposed all the flaws in modern society. Thus, songs like "There's a Wall in Washington" (an anti-war song inspired by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.) and "Wasteland of the Free" (about corporate excess and downsizing) strike right to the heart.

The comparison to The Way I Should is Revival by Gillian Welch. Welch received lots of (undeserved) press for her stark, hillbilly sound. But the difference lies in their outlook. Welch's music is too depressing for repeated listenings; DeMent sees the shortcomings, and yearns for change.

Though Iris built a buzz in the past, I didn't cotton to her folk/hillbilly style. But the new album turns a sharp corner. Both gifted and compassionate, Iris DeMent has a brilliant future (much like Emmylou Harris was once touted as the future of country music). Don't miss The Way I Should.

Her Majesty The Baby, Mary (Nu.Millennia 1996) - The core of Her Majesty The Baby is vocalists Lee Paiva and guitarist Terri Winston. Mary features the dreamy sound pioneered by Cocteau Twins with a better defined beat and clearer (i.e., more understandable) vocals.

Her Majesty The two women started playing together a decade ago in Tiverton, Rhode Island (the name of the band refers to a Freudian stage of development characterized by self-centeredness). In 1990, the duo relocated to San Francisco, where they developed a solid following.

This pair built their own recording studio from scratch (with the help of their husbands), and now perform, engineer, and produce their own brand of soft pop. The result is Mary, the inaugural release on Nu.Millennia records.

Flushing out the arrangements on Mary are drummer Ben Green, bassist Maggie Law, and rhythm guitarist William Kendall. Readers of this column know that I gravitate toward home recordings. Mary is another self-made labor of love that will please fans of dream pop.

The Doors' Greatest Hits & Absolutely Live (Elektra 1996) - Elektra Records has reissued enhanced versions of two classic Doors' albums - Greatest Hits and Absolutely Live. Both discs are must-owns for fans, thought the computer-enhancement is questionable.

The Doors were a complete package. In addition to great studio recordings, they were a knockout live band. And Absolutely Live captures the Doors (Jim Morrison on vocals, Ray Manzarek on organ and keyboards, Robbie Krieger on guitar, and John Densmore on drums) during concerts recorded in 1969 and 1970, just before the bubble burst at the infamous Dinner Key concert in Miami.

Absolutely Live includes live versions of such classics as "When The Music's Over" and "Who Do You Love?" Also featured is the only regular (i.e., non-bootleg) release of Jim Morrison's epic poem, "Celebration of the Lizard."

Greatest Hits showcases all the hit singles, including "Hello, I Love You," "Light My Fire," and "L.A. Woman," as well as such gems as "Touch Me" and the version of "The End" featured in Apocalypse Now. The album also includes an "enhanced" section, which is supposed to be playable in a computer.

doors Unfortunately, Greatest Hits suffers from the same flaws as all Macromedia-enhanced CD's, meaning that I can't play it on Windows 95 (though I heard it works fine on Macs). By contrast, the Quicktime-enhanced CD's issued by Columbia play perfectly on Windows 95. The music's great, but the computer problem is annoying. So I can only give a qualified endorsement to Greatest Hits.

-- Randy Krbechek
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