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Iris Dement

The Way I Should – 1996 (Warner)

Reviewed by Roy Kasten

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CDs by Iris Dement

Two years have passed since Iris Dement's "My Life," a masterpiece of spiritual autobiography, undeniably universal and intimate. Her third recording is a departure, featuring scores of session players mixing electric blues, new grass, rock, and honky-tonk. Dement sings her soul into these 11 originals, but the production often fails her. "Wall in Washington" evokes the Vietnam Memorial and the families who "travel from far away" to read the names - not a story that needs telling, and given Randy Scruggs' U2ish dabblings, it never captures the mute power of that black stone.

Likewise, the combative and cranky "Wasteland of the Free" forces its anthemic critique with slick arena rock. Fortunately, moments of grace outnumber failures. "When My Morning Comes Around" isradiant, but Scruggs' countrypolitan arrangement can't match fearsomelines like "this place where I live will burn to ash and cinder like someghost town or an ember."

There is one perfect moment: "Walkin' Home," a reverie for moonlit streets and a reminder of the heartening spirit of solitude, which has always been Dement's most hard won art.