There’s something very unpretentious about Iris DeMent that I love. The youngest child of 14, she grew up in a household steeped in country and gospel music, and full-on pentecostal fundamentalism. All of those influences are self-evident in her music. But it is the stripped back, tell-it-like-it-is, no-nonsense, sticking up for the underdog basis of her songs that I find particularly attractive. It’s true that her voice is probably an acquired taste (much like another of my favorites, Nanci Griffith), but for me there is a real soulfulness and truth in those vocals that only enhances the songs.
There was a sixteen year gap between her previous album of original material (1996’s The Way I Should) and it’s follow-up, 2012’s Sing The Delta, a period punctuated only by 2004’s Lifeline, an album of traditional gospel songs. Never one for the star-making machinery behind the popular song, Iris bided her time until, as she put it, “a handful of songs walked through and a few unfinished ones came together and I knew I had a record”. These songs, as the title alludes, are born of her birthplace and base for much of her family, the Arkansas Delta. There is a homeliness, honesty and power in these songs that are borne of true life experience.
“There’s A Whole Lotta Heaven” is just such a song, and at it’s root addresses a perenial theme of DeMent’s music – a rejection of the fundamentalist, literal nature of the belief system she was brought up with, whilst at the same time clinging to, and strongly valuing, the essence, the human values and appreciation, that came with that faith. That’s a journey that I, and probably many others, can share. Yeah, I know, a bit heavier than your average pop song, but you’ve probably noticed a predilection for that sort of thing around here. No apologies!
And so to the song sheet. The song is fairly straightforward, but a couple of things to point out. Firstly, this is in the same key as the above YouTube performance, not the recorded version on Sing The Delta. Secondly, take the positioning of the chords to the lyrics as a guide – I think this reflects how it works on the YouTube version, but it is definitely open to interpretation, so sing it how you’re comfortable. Regardless of how you do it, I love singing this song, and hope you do to. Enjoy!