By Alanna Nash
April 15, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

With her 1992 debut, Infamous Angel, Arkansas singer-songwriter Iris DeMent was heralded as a throwback to Carter Family era, when country music was defined by character and simplicity of presentation, not by Nashville marketing. Her graceful vignettes of love and family and prayerful meditations on life and death had a spare, homemade sound reminiscent of music that has washed around the hills for generations. Her voice, a sweet, unadorned soprano, mixed childlike innocence with adult yearning, yet was twangy enough to reinforce her music’s old-timey attitude.

On her second album, My Life, DeMent revives familiar themes and continues to keep her music simple, relying solely on acoustic instruments and a tinkling gospel piano. But lyrically, she’s more complex, and her outlook is cautious and unwaveringly bleak. Where Infamous Angel took time out to celebrate life’s redeeming moments, My Life is an aural chronicle of a breakdown, of a human being shattering into shards. The finest work appears in the title song and in ”No Time to Cry,” in which the singer delays mourning the death of her father because she has bills to pay and shows to play. No average country troubadour, DeMent is a backwoods Emily Dickinson. ”My life, it’s only a season, a passing September, that no one will recall,” she declares in ”My Life.” With writing like this, such a forecast is doubtful. A-

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