Five absolutely perfect albums from the 1990s

These albums stood out in an otherwise mixed decade.

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IRIS DEMENT: MY LIFE (1994)

I don’t remember the time or the place, but I still have a perfect sense of memory of hearing the first track off of Iris Dement’s second album – “Sweet is the Melody.” I had considered myself an outlaw country man. I liked Johnny and Willie. I liked rockers like The Allman Brothers and Molly Hatchet. Traditional country – no thanks.

But here was this voice – as twangy and potent as Tennessee moonshine, as pure a country water. She was singing the sweetest song imaginable about the power of music. I was hooked. I sat down to listen to the rest of the album with a bit of dread. Surely, that opening track was a pleasant anomaly. The rest would probably offer diminishing returns.

But, lo and behold, the rest got better. There was the heartbreak of “You’ve Done Nothing Wrong,” the joyous memory of “Childhood Memories,” the weary wisdom of “Easy’s Getting’ Harder Every Day.” Each song was a deep well of emotion and memory, all presented simply by the truest country voice you could hope for. She has a great road song – “No Time to Cry” – and a requisite spiritual, covering Maybelle Carter’s “Troublesome Waters.” She wraps it all up with the simple piano ballad “My Life,” a humble and beautiful tribute to the smallest of pleasures. Dement would become John Prine’s favorite duet partner, which ought to tell you something about just how special a singer she is.