the thing about sarah lee guthrie and johnny irion…
So what’s been going on with Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband/music partner Johnny Irion for the past five or so years since the Gary Louris-Ed Ackerson produced Exploration was released? Well let’s see…they’ve parented two children, moved from South Carolina to a new home they built in Massachusetts, recorded a children’s album called Go Waggaloo, filmed the DVD Folksong and Johhny did another solo release (El Tempore for Yep Roc). They travelled extensively with three generations of Guthries for the “Guthrie Family Rides Again” tour as well as doing their own gigs from time to time. And I guess with all that free time they had on their hands, they’ve managed to write, arrange and record Bright Examples which will see the light of day on February 22…George Washington’s birthday (and mine too).
I cannot tell a lie…I like these kids. And I really like the new album.
Kids? Looking around my office at the moment I see two guitars, an autoharp, a Lenny Bruce poster from the Fillmore, several hundred record albums and a pair of black cowboy boots that are all older than Sarah Lee. I first saw her dad perform forty-one years ago at a folk festival and I honestly wanted to name our first son Arlo, but my wife said it was too weird. Turning just 32 this month, Sarah is the youngest of Arlo’s talented children. Johnny is also a February baby (I believe), but he has ten years on her. He’s from South Carolina and is the grand-nephew of John Steinbeck. Working, writing and playing (as does rest of the Guthrie clan) they are doing an admirable job of carrying on the tradition of America’s first family of folk music.
Here’s an abbreviated bio for the duo: they met in LA through their mutual friendship with the Black Crowes, married in 1999 and started to do some acoustic shows together in 2000. Johnny had a solo release in 2001 and Sarah did one in 2002. The critics seemed to love Exploration with those easy harmonies and beautiful songs and I’ll take a moment to share a video of my favorite, done live a couple of years ago…”In Lieu of Flowers”:
About the new album…and in order to save me time and give you some accuracy, I’ll just liberally and unabashedly cut and paste a bit from their website:
“Bright Examples was co-produced by Andy Cabic, the prime mover behind the San Francisco pastoral psych-rock band Vetiver, and Thom Monahan, who has also worked with Vetiver as well as Devendra Banhart, the Pernice Brothers and Jayhawks vocalist Gary Louris, who just happened to have produced Exploration for Sarah Lee and Johnny. Members of Vetiver provide the instrumental accompaniment on Bright Examples as well as special guest artists including Louris (vocals), Mark Olson (The Jayhawks, vocals), Otto Houser (Vetiver, drums), Neal Casal (guitar), Kevin Barker and Charlie Rose (pedal steel, flat picking guitars), and Rad Lorkovic (piano).”
Thanks to the kindness of their record label, I’ve been listening to this album now for about six weeks and have fallen in love with it. In all honesty, at first I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a totally stripped down folk-duo record, because twice this past year I’ve seen them perform acoustically and it’s just how I imagined it would be. And that would have made a nice little album, but what Bright Examples has turned out to be is much more interesting. The band adds beautiful layers of texture to the songs and vocals, making them in Guthrie’s words “more atmospheric or psychedelic, sort of dreamy but colorful.”
If she hadn’t said that, I think would have. And not to scare you off, but to these old ears I think that the kids have come up with a great sounding sixties album…capturing a vibe and sound that’s as fresh as it is retro.
Should the stars align themselves next week, my wife and I will give each other a post-Valentine’s Day gift by getting on the freeway, driving south off the valley floor, go up and over a couple of mountains and than navigate through the after-work traffic as we get close to the city before pulling up to the old church in Normal Heights that saves souls on Sundays and raises them on the nights when Carey Driscoll promotes one of his shows. The AMSD (formerly called Acoustic Music San Diego) series that Carey captains’ is always a treat and if I lived closer I’d attend every show. Hell, I’d work there. But next week…well, this one should be special.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to leave you with a video that I just love to watch…