In October of 1992, Rounder Records’ Philo label put out a debut album by a new singer-songwriter named Iris DeMent.
Elsewhere in music, Nirvana’s debut was at the top of the charts, as were hits like Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” and En Vogue’s “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It).” Looking back, it’s an interesting musical landscape to drop an album such as Infamous Angel.
Its liners were written by John Prine, probably DeMent’s male musical doppleganger. It opened with an agnostic hymn (“Let the Mystery Be”) that was jaunty and straight-forward, with a happy-horse-cantering rhythm guitar and DeMent’s singular, full-throated vocals, stating without any care or judgment that she’s not concerned about whether or not there’s a god.
It wasn’t going to fly on country radio next to “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” There was yet no Americana chart—that wouldn’t come for three more years—but the world just needed some Iris DeMent and so here she came.
Revisited now, thirty years later, the album remains a stunner. Were it released for the first time this week, it would still outweigh anything else on order. Indeed, the folks at Yep Roc Records have lined up a 30th anniversary re-master and are reissuing it on vinyl November 4.
The bonus thing about reissues is that it gives fans an opportunity to revisit a landmark album with the rest of the artist’s career in mind. In that way, listening back on “Our Town” and “Mama’s Opry” and “When Love Was Young” knowing that this album would inevitably lead to masterpieces like My Life (1994) and Sing the Delta (2012), is a treat.
DeMent’s albums have not come at a steady clip. She has always taken her time and released something when she had something more to say. Yet thirty years of singer-songwriters have devoured her work with wonder and adoration.
It is no small feat to pen a line like, “hold on to your lover ‘cause your heart’s bound to die,” in the part of “Our Town” that DeMent drops the line. Her skill with the pen is equivalent to comedic timing, except it’s something more heartbreaking and revelatory.
The vinyl reissue brings back into print the album that launched her career. If you missed it the first time, don’t miss it again.
Infamous Angel is available HERE.