Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Boats: Iris Dement edition

Iris Dement: Troublesome Waters [purchase]

Iris Dement: The Old Gospel Ship [purchase]

Here's a pair of Iris Dement recordings in which ships are metaphorical vehicles for embracing one's spirituality. "Troublesome Waters" is an old Carter Family tune, most famously covered by Johnny Cash in 1964, and recorded by Iris for her great My Life album in 1994. In the song, the singer laments that troublesome waters are "rockin' my boat and wreckin' my soul." Iris' father passed away in 1992 and I have to imagine that this song was great comfort to her following that loss. The stark arrangement highlights Iris' high, lonesome twang, particularly when she ascends and then descends with, "Gently I'm feelin' the touch of His hand / Guiding my boat in safely to land." That's powerful medicine.

Iris recorded "The Old Gospel Ship" for her underappreciated 2004 gospel album, Lifeline. It's an old-timey public domain number that's been around, in one form or another, since before the turn of the 20th century. In the liner notes to The Gospel Ship Baptist Hymns & White Spirituals From The Southern Mountains, folklorist Alan Lomax says that it's "a gospel song of the type that became popular around the turn of the century. The image of religion as a vessel sailing to heaven with a cargo of the faithful is a perennial favorite, occurring in old carols and modern songs alike." As always, enjoy. And as Billy Joe Shaver likes to say, "May the God of your choice bless you."


Divinyl said...

Lovely. I don't know nearly enough of Iris Dement's music...something I've been meaning to rectify for some time. I absolutely love her song Mama's Opry which I first got to know through Sunny Sweeney's cover of it.

boyhowdy said...

Oh, hooray -- I'm a BIG Iris Dement fan, and she does lots of wonderful covers; I keep meaning to get to her over at the coverblog. Her work with John Prine (on his duets-with-women album "In Spite of Ourselves") is just fab, too.