Iris Dement puts down roots at the Cactus Café
By Jim Caligiuri, 1:58PM, Mon. Apr. 27, 2009
Although she’s recorded only four albums since 1992’s Infamous Angel, Iris Dement proved Saturday night she can still sell out the Cactus in an instant. While her appearance has grown a little more matronly over time, her Midwestern roots remain, a corn-fed blend of family, the spiritual, and old-fashioned humor. Performing mostly on a grand piano that overwhelmed the small stage, the fair-haired singer-songwriter with the raw and reedy voice revisited some of her best known work, from “Sweet Is the Melody” and “Let the Mystery Be” to near bluegrass and something approaching Randy Newman’s version of Americana.
While initially claiming some nervousness, by mid-set Dement was comfortable enough to share stories of her marriage to revered folksinger Greg Brown and lovingly relate how her elderly mother still holds sway. Dement seems to have broken through whatever writer’s block she’s been experiencing. There were new tunes, which she unfortunately let float by without names: an ode to a morning glory and one song that referenced Aretha Franklin showed her muse has returned with potency.
A brief move to guitar for three songs was a nice break from the melodrama she wrought on the keys, with an especially poignant version of “Our Town” running rings around the decline of small town America. Ending the encore with the timeless “Old-Fashioned Love,” a tune made popular by Bob Wills, Dement earned a standing ovation. She had been onstage for nearly two hours, yet it felt like only a few moments. No one felt shorted, precisely the reason Dement continues to pack venues wherever and whenever she appears.