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Critic's Choice: Iris DeMent

Singer adds a political tone to her latest album

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The Way I Should (Oct. 8), Iris DeMent’s third masterful album, packs several surprises, including a repertoire that focuses as much on social politics as on her searing personal confessions. DeMent credits the realpolitik turn to her friendship with Merle Haggard. The hypnotic lament ”Wall in Washington” (”a boy…reaches his hand up and traces each letter/He stares at the name of his unknown father”) is ”one of my oldest songs,” she says. ”But the fact that Merle has written so many courageous political songs gave me the confidence to record it.” And confidence will come in handy as she continues to travel a commercially risky path. As it is, DeMent gets little airplay but won’t bend principles to earn it. ”I feel like what I do matters. A good song has something to say to people.”