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DeMent's Friends in High Places Lend a Hand

August 23, 1993|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Iris DeMent the anti-Garth?

Certainly in terms of sales clout. The Arkansas-born, Orange County-reared folk singer-songwriter probably didn't sell as many copies of her debut album, "Infamous Angel," in the last 12 months as Garth Brooks' new "In Pieces" album will in its first 12 minutes when it is released next week.

She does, on the other hand, have a growing legion of friends in high places.

No less than John Prine waxed enthusiastically about her in the liner notes on her album, released last year by Philo, the tiny independent folk label. And Emmylou Harris was sufficiently impressed with DeMent's disarmingly direct songwriting and singing to contribute her harmonies on one song.

(DeMent gets a double endorsement in Harris, who is not only possibly the finest female country singer of her generation, but also is the current president of the Nashville-based Country Music Foundation, which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame.)

DeMent is also winning converts on the business side of the record business. In an extremely rare move, Warner Bros. Records decided to pick up the "Infamous Angel" album lock, stock and barrel and give it the kind of push only a major label can muster.

"It is pretty unusual," said Carl Scott, Warner Bros. senior vice president of artist relations. "I can't think of when it was done before."

DeMent, whose performance Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano will mark her first time headlining a club in the county where she and her family lived for most of her childhood and adolescence, first grabbed the label's attention via its vice president of A&R, Andy Wickham.

"I got a call from Andy in London, and he asked me to go see her at McCabe's" in Santa Monica last March, Scott said. "He was very interested in her, but didn't want to tell me anything about her. He said, 'Just go see her.' I went to McCabe's and was totally knocked out. . . . I thought she was charming, honest and very pure."

Her high, bluegrass-influenced, quavering voice has won her a following among public-radio programmers, Scott said. "She's been very popular with National Public Radio and (adult alternative) stations--she gets a lot of airplay from them. More-commercial stations aren't the slightest bit interested, and I doubt that they will be."

As for selling DeMent to the public, Scott said: "Hearing is believing. . . . Once you hear her, you want to hear some more."

* Iris DeMent, the Love Crystals and Aimee Bovee play Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $13.50. (714) 496-8930.

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