Iris DeMent’s seventh album, Workin’ On A World, affirms life in the midst of chaos and despair. Powerful gospel-inflected songs lift love and the unity of human community up high above the messy fray of hatred, fear, anger, and division that dominates so much of daily life. DeMent acknowledges that differences permeate daily life but declares that by working together we can indeed build a better world from the brokenness of our world.
With striding gospel piano rolls, the exuberant title track kicks off the album, transporting listeners with its joyous acclamation of the possibilities of building a new world out of the one that seems to be crashing to the ground around us. Like the great “warriors of love” who have preceded us in striving to build a more perfect world they’d never live to see, DeMent joins forces with them, gets up in the “mornin’ knowing I’m privileged to be/Workin’ on a world I may never see.” It’s hard to imagine how much higher DeMent can take us after this exhilarating, transcendent opening track.
On the jaunty “Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas” DeMent lays down rivers of cascading piano as Brad Jones’ B3 strains, Jon Graboff’s shimmering pedal steel, and Richard Bennett’s soulful guitar riffs play call and response; it’s a rollicking R&B-inflected song whose easygoing melody belies the struggle at the center of the song. The singer, headed down to a gig in Texas, “where anybody can carry a gun,” calls out the greed of the rich and the hate-mongering of many politicians and their followers, even as she praises the courage of the Chicks and others who have stood up to such expressions of hatred.
The atmospheric “Say a Good Word” shines with an undulating melodic theme as the singer reminds us that a lovingly spoken word can heal divisions. Riding in on twangy and jangly electric guitars, “The Sacred Now” reminds us that even our most mundane moments contain within them glimmers of the sacred.
The gliding country rocker “Warriors of Love” pays tribute to individuals such as Civil Rights activist and senator John Lewis and Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie. With soaring vocals, DeMent sings that such “warriors of love” are all around us: “Look around you, you will see/People still building the beloved community/In every corner of this earth/You’ll find people in a fix, willing to risk/An early ride in the hearse.”
The album closes with the lilting country blues rambler “Waycross, Georgia,” with words by Rev. Samuel E. Mann, III and music by Greg Brown. The song unfurls spaciously with warm layers of horns as the singer tells the story of a man who picks up a stranger who teaches the enduring lesson of loving one another:
“Along the road that leads toward home…
Are the people who fed your life…
Smile and thank each of those people…
And then say farewell, Say farewell.”
Workin’ on a World showcases DeMent’s ingenious lyricism and her gift of weaving atmospheric melodies around and under her words. She plumbs the depths of our souls on her new album, mourning the ways we hurt one another and the world around us with our divisive ways, but celebrating the ways that love makes us whole and can heal our divisions in loving actions toward one another.
Workin’ On A World is available HERE.