Iris DeMent.

After the sublime Iris DeMent concert at City Winery a couple weeks ago, she was selling copies of her new CD at a table by the door. I wanted one, but as I was waiting in line I remembered that I didn’t have any cash. I watched and didn’t see anyone paying with a card, so when I got to her I said, “I don’t have any cash, can I pay with a card?” She handed me a CD and said, “That’s okay, it’s yours.”

I was taken off guard, and I said, “Are you sure?”

She said, “Yes! Do you want me to sign it?”

I thought maybe she’d misunderstood my question and thought I was saying I couldn’t afford to buy a CD, but I was insecure and star-struck and not at all sure what was happening, so I just said, “Yes.”

I went and told C about the odd encounter. He had cash, but I was too embarrassed to go back, so I told him to go give it to her. He went to the table, but she was deep in conversation with someone, so he handed the money to the girl standing next to her who was helping sell CDs, but she hadn’t seen the earlier exchange and she had no idea why C was handing her money, and now she was more confused than I was.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the CD. I don’t know why she wrote “Fa Steven.” Maybe she was as thrown by the whole thing as I was.

City Winery is a great venue. I’ve known about it for years but never went, likely because in years past it would have been a little steep for me. They serve great food and of course wine is their thing, so you can go early and have a beautiful (though a little cramped) dinner, and then have dessert with a glass of port when the show starts. Which is exactly what we did.

I didn’t catch the Iris DeMent train till her second album, which all in all is darker and sadder than her first. But J and I literally didn’t take it out of the CD player for weeks.

She brings the same depth of tenderness to songs about grief or Jesus or erotic love or anger. Or this song, which, as far as I can tell, is about songwriting. It is a song about work. What she seems to say in this, and in all her songs, is that music is necessary, that music is salvation. What she does -- and this thought is hard for me to pin down, it flits away as I approach it – what she does is she makes a case for the redemptive power being not so much in any idea expressed in the song (god, etc.) but that it is immanent in the song itself, in music itself. It is how I feel, but have never been able to really articulate, about, as a non-believer, singing gospel music. The songs have power. Belief is beside the point.

Maybe I’m getting overwrought or overblown about such sweet, simple music. It’s just that her songs move me in a way that feels out of proportion and I’m always trying to figure out why that is.

It could be her voice. I was going to call it ethereal, which it is, but the word on the page doesn’t look quite right because her voice is, also, the opposite of ethereal. It’s subterranean, not just rooted but it is the root, of that thing, that world, that was not my upbringing in a literal sense but that I recognize as a deeper, older kind of “home” when I hear the Carter Family or Loretta Lynn, or taste the salt of country ham and red eye gravy. These things in my blood, in my cells. I could not hope, or desire for that matter, to explain what that’s about.