Iris DeMent recorded her latest album in her living room in five days with a group of friends, which sounds just about right. DeMent bides her time between albums until she feels fully invested in the music and then plunges into it without making a big fuss. She aims for an emotional connection that would only be diluted by technically labored production.
“The Trackless Woods” (Flariella) finds the Arkansas-born singer creating music for a series of poems left behind by a Russian writer, Anna Akhmatova, who was persecuted by Soviet authorities and denied an income, and saw her only child imprisoned. Through it all she continued to write rather than flee her homeland, in an effort to bolster the spirits of her countrymen and most certainly her own.
DeMent trusts the words: clear, concise, heart-breaking. She never over-emotes, but sings in the plain-spoken tone of an artist steeped in the country songs and hymns of her youth. With each track, DeMent sounds like she’s losing her innocence all over again when confronted by the world’s cruelty, a quality that has imbued her recordings since her stunning 1992 debut, “Infamous Angel.”
A number of tunes share a similar tone and tempo, as if the singer’s reverence for the poet hemmed in the arrangements. But she adds just enough texture to make the album a moving listen: the bluesy, nearly rollicking “From an Airplane,” mirroring the sense of possibility mapped out in the verses; the country-soul of “Listening to Singing,” with mandolin and drums instead of piano leading the way; the harpsichord-like tones that haunt “The Souls of All My Dears.”
As the songs unfold, the nuances in DeMent’s vocals become more apparent, as painterly as the poet’s words. “The Last Toast” brims with ruefulness, but it’s not self-pitying. DeMent’s reading is light, almost matter of fact, as if embodying the poet who has quietly come to terms with every disaster that has befallen her and somehow found her way back to the surface, if only to declare, “I exist.”
As DeMent sings in the wondrous “Songs About Songs,” “Let me give the world a gift / More incorruptible than love.” The words apply to Akhmatova’s poems and to the album that DeMent has made in tribute to them.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $25 general admission, $20 for Olympia Film Society members.