Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion are the Brightest Examples on New CD
Artist: Sarah Lee and Johnny
Album: Bright Examples
Label: Ninth Street Opus
With apologies to Henry David Thoreau, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion’s new album, Bright Examples, demonstrates that it is possible for most people to live lives of quiet inspiration……and sing their song along the way.
With the Feburary 22nd release of this new album, the couple have accomplished a rare feat in popular music. As a duo they have found their own voice that is full of artistic integrity, continuity and unity that has depth and dimension along with an appealing and striking folk-rock based sound.
Producers, Andy Cabic of the innovative San Francisco rock band, Vetiver, and former Jayhawks vocalist, Thom Monahan, given us a record of melodic and thematic flow. They have woven a collection of songs which seamlessly move through country-rock with some added nods to the kind of sweet folkie psychedlia which is not based so much on Timothy Leary or the Grateful Dead as it is inspired by John Muir, Thoreau and Emerson.
Bright Examples captures the homegrown-honeymoon and artistic growth of a married couple working breathlessly together through the diamond days of their young lives raising children, writing and recording songs which are like a personal soundtrack, but resonate with the kind of universality we all ache to realize in our busy lives. They are clearly in love with their life together and want us to be in love with ours as well
Each of the 12 songs included on this collection seems intentionally drawn to tell some side of the story of the creative, spiritual life from the eyes of children and the child-like to the heart of the listener. There is an early Lennon/McCartney innocence to these songs, however, they come from the authentic place within the lives of the artists. The opening and dreamy “Ahead of Myself” takes the listener through a hazy twilight awareness, a slow awakening into a California dawn. This quiet beginning finds full wakefulness in the second song, “Never Far From My Heart,” which updates a Carter Family feel into a familiar Felice and Boudleaux Bryant pop harmonic romp. The songs reveal, as the dominant writer on the album, Johnny has found his own songwriting pulse in the sometimes sadly neglected American songwriting legacy previously championed by everyone one from Stephen Foster to Townes Van Zandt. And there is the feeling that even on the songs written solo by Johnny, Sarah Lee’s inspiration is never far away.
The themes of the songs move along two streams; the movement of a busy life and the quiet revelation of those still times in-between when even small events take on great meaning. Sarah Lee’s song of surrender and compassion “Seven Sisters,” was inspired by a conversion with the late, great Odetta. “Speed Of Light” and “Hurry Up” illustrate the busy movement of the creative life. They also underscore the joy found in a life devoted to family, spirit and music. But the depth and perhaps the energy for their restless journey is found in contemplative songs like Sarah Lee’s “Butterflies” which smilingly lead us to the original innocence available to us all in the ordinary magic of everyday living.
But it’s the closing title song, “Bright Examples”, which brings the two themes together in Johnny’s story of a chance meeting with a stranger on the Appalachian Trail who simply borrows his phone for an unsuccessful call and then hitches a ride down to the toll road. As the opening track, “Ahead Of Myself,” began quietly with a dream-like feel to it, this story-song is built around a diminished sounding crashing minor chord that finds its way into a psychedelic gospel realization as the song progresses. Like the best stories, it creates a world where nothing much seems to happen, until, as the listener, you realize just in the experience of the song, a simple moment of humanity emerges, much like Johnny’s famous grand-uncle John Steinbeck once wrote about in American literature, the title song subtly shows how enlightenment is really only a simple good deed away for any of us. It’s the coming together of action and reflection, compassion and empathy.
When asked about the song and album title, Johnny suggested the bright examples he writes about are all of us, everyday, finding meaning in the simplicity of our daily lives. This collection of songs find two artists becoming one, not only through marriage, but through music and creative spirituality. And while, they are among the brightest of examples, this album also allows the listener to fall in love with the stories and visions they have created and, if listened to close enough, we may find our way to the same ordinary miracles and inspiration in our own lives.