There's just something disturbing about a collection of gospel songs that leaves the listener feeling sad when it's over. Isn't the word "inspirational" oftentimes associated with this genre of music? Well, Iris DeMent's desperate sounding vocalizing on these 12 gospel standards and one newly written track is anything but inspirational. Instead, "Lifeline" finds DeMent gripping tightly to the last thinning strands of hope.
DeMent has said that she loves these songs for their association with her youth and not because she's an overly religious woman. Nevertheless, she somehow turns the faith-affirming "Blessed Assurance" into the kind of dark mood one normally associates with folks like Morrissey. The most telling inclusion here is "God Walks The Dark Hills," since DeMent is clearly walking through the valley of the shadow of death throughout this release. The only new DeMent song is one called "He Reached Down," which retells the Good Samaritan story.
The arrangements of these songs are sparse, at best, and add standup bass and Dobro in places where DeMent's lone piano is not the primary instrumentation. DeMent sounds very much alone and sad here, and it's hard to tell if her lifeline of songs is really making her feel any better.