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A Distinctive Voice Takes a New Direction

Iris DeMent’s 1992 debut album Infamous Angel immediately established her as a distinctive voice in roots music and a gifted songwriter, and it still draws new fans to her music.

“Our Town” – the first song she ever wrote – was featured in the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and other cuts from the album have previously been used in the HBO series The Leftovers and other films.

“A few new folks always show up when something like that happens,” said DeMent, who comes to the City Winery in Ivy City on Sept. 28.

While affection and praise for her early work endures, DeMent hasn’t rested on past achievements. On her latest record The Trackless Woods, DeMent did something totally different for her, composing music and singing the verses of the late Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.

“The first time I read one of (her) poems … I heard a voice tell me to set it to music,” DeMent said. “I responded, ‘I don’t know how,’ and whoever or whatever it was that was talking to me said ‘I’ll help you.’ So that’s what I did.”

The songs are beautiful and DeMent’s voice remains one of the most recognizable in any genre. She has always been able to convey feelings ranging from childlike wonder to weary resignation, with a playful side as well.

“From the time I was a kid, if I loved someone’s voice, male or female, I would try to emulate it. All those voices mixed with whatever may have been uniquely mine is what you hear today.”

DeMent started singing as a child, and as the youngest of 14 children, she usually sang with her sisters or a church group. She still enjoys performing duets, and has done so with Steve Earle, John Prine and others (her duet with Prine on “In Spite of Ourselves” is a modern classic.) While she never yearned for the spotlight, and even enjoyed not being the focus of attention, she accepts that performing is part of the process of creating songs.

“I know that the spirit moves in the music and I feel a reverence in the presence of that. As long as I feel that and I’m healthy enough to travel, I’ll keep going out and singing for people.”



Lula Wiles will bring their three-part harmonies to the Hill Center for a free outdoor show on Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. Photo: Louise Bichan

Lula Wiles and Crooks and Crows on the Hill
Lula Wiles is three women who write original songs that are grounded in folk tradition, but don’t shy away from modern observations about love and life in the U.S.

Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin met at a music camp in Maine, and their voices weave together beautifully. They usually perform using one microphone, so their harmonies sound like something you might hear drifting off a front porch somewhere.

They have a new record coming out soon on the Smithsonian Folkways label, and will kick off a new season of the Hill Center’s American Roots series with a free outdoor show on Sept. 23 at 4:30 p.m.


John Patrick Brothers grew up in Texas, where writing country songs seems as natural as rooting for the Cowboys. As a teenager he screamed and sang in hardcore punk bands. Nowadays he fronts the band Crooks and Crows, which will play at Mr. Henry’s on Sept. 27.

The band, which is based out of Takoma Park, made a CD a few years ago that presented Brothers’s songs in a laid-back light. With the recent addition of lead guitarist Steve Higgs, the group has a stronger honky tonk vibe. Bassist Jake Warrefeltz, drummer Jessee Aasheim, pedal steel guitarist Jamie Linder and pianist Jeffrey Greenberg round out the lineup.

“I write from the heart and punk and country has always meant raw emotion for me,” said Brothers. “Crooks and Crows is a country band but … those punk roots make their way up.”


Also of interest: Allison Krauss at The Anthem Sept. 18; Courtney Marie Andrews at the Rock and Roll Hotel Sept. 20, in support of her new record May Your Kindness Remain; Alice Gerrard at All Souls Unitarian Church on Sept. 22, to celebrate the upcoming release of live recordings she made with Hazel Dickens in DC in the late 1960s.

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