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Guthrie, Sarah Lee, and Johnny Irion: Bright Examples

Sarah Lee Guthrie is the daughter of the famous "Alice's Restaurant" singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie and the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie who wrote the epic song "This Land is Your Land"; so you know she comes from good singer/songwriter stock. This album was made along with her husband, Johnny Irion, and some help from their friends. The album was co-produced by Andy Cabic and Thom Monahan, both who have produced and/or played in the San Francisco psych – rock band Vetiver.

Gary Louris and Mark Olson of the Jayhawks also lent their vocals and in the case of Gary, their songwriting abilities to this album which reflects back upon the experiences that Sarah Lee and Johnny encountered over the past half decade between this album and their debut Exploration. Gary Louris also produced the couple's Exploration.

Sarah Lee and Johnny first met in Raleigh, North Carolina via a mutual friend, Chris Robinson lead singer of the Black Crowes. Sarah Lee and Johnny now reside in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts. Much of the album was recorded live with the band, that includes Otto Houser, drums; Neal Casel, guitar; Kevin Barker and Charlie Rose, pedal steel, flat picking guitars; and Rad Lorkovic on piano, accordion, and Hammond.

This album was another great surprise to receive, and will definitely be amongst my favorite albums of 2011.

Track Listing:

The best song on the album, "Ahead of Myself" opens with slow soft drums before the electric guitar is added ever so slowly. Then Johnny's vocals open, "all asleep in my arms 'til the morning breaks…" Yeah a sweet, cool love song about some of the first experiences of Johnny and Sarah Lee's new found love in California, before they moved to South Carolina. "Let the horses run free" takes on a life of its own with the help of Sarah Lee's beautiful voice and the pair's vocal harmony. Then the dreamy refrain, "Getting a little ahead of myself", is just perfect with the husband and wife duo singing in again in perfect harmony. The lyrics and vocals are perfect for a day in bed relaxing, "That must be 5 am light or we slept right through or it's tomorrow night." The perfect kind of lover's song just in time for Valentine's Day and the coming spring.

"Never Far from My Heart" opens wonderfully with the couple's vocal harmonies and the acoustic guitar accompanying, "It's a sunny Saturday, people havin' fun, I hear them out on their front porch laughing at the crazy things that they've done". Reflections of past experiences from South Carolina. Rising about life's problems. The 'together we can do it spirit' rings throughout. The guitar, drums, and bass, support the vocals so well.

"Speed of Light" starts with a 4/4 tempo, reminding me of early Byrds with those blazing acoustics. The vocal harmonies return, "Kinda like the speed of light." Then the, "Love is like the speed of light. It never changes" refrain, almost has a Fleetwood Mac sound to it. This sounds like the perfect mix between early Fleetwood Mac and the Byrds.

If the opener isn't your favorite, then "Seven Sisters" might be. Gary Louris and Mark Olson join Sarah Lee on vocals for this one. The organ opens this song like a gospel, before Sarah Lee's 'Emmylou Harris - like' vocals take center stage. Mark, Gary, and Johnny do a great job lending vocal support. The pedal steel guitar and slow drums also help to create dramatic effect along with the organ.

Piano and picking guitars open "Target on Your Heart" perfectly. Then Johnny and Sarah Lee take over vocally. The harmonies really lift this one, along with the piano, soft drums and guitar. The refrain is wonderful.

"Hurry Up and Wait" opens with an acoustic guitar which took me right back to Bob Seger's "Night Moves" opening. Then the pedal steel chimes in and Johnny and Sarah Lee take over vocally. The thumping rhythm of the drums really helps to add to the effect of the lyrics. "It's the same old story soldier, we hurry up and wait." Ain't it the truth though? They give you a lot of examples in the lyrics to remind you. Those Byrds – like guitar harmonies at 2:37 are excellent.

A slow drum machine sets the waltz – like rhythm for "Dupont Circle". A tribute to New Orleans and famous bluesman Walter "Wolfman" Washington. This song sounds very much like a Gary Louris song, even though he's not credited. The guitar solos add great flavor to the mix. The only thing missing is a harmonica and it's this reference which brings back memories from Gary's song Vagabonds, "folky singers with cold harmonica's".

Sarah Lee's beautiful 'Stevie Nicks – like' song "Butterflies" will bring back memories of Stevie's song Sarah, without the heavy instrumentation. Interesting twist there. Inspired by butterflies from the Lower Valley Road. A nice, soft dreamy song full of quiet, soft vocals, "butterflies in the road, I think we should go real slow", supported well with accordion, piano and acoustic guitars. "Take me down that long path. That's where I want to be."

Gary Louris helped write "First Snow" and you can hear his indelible stamp throughout. His vocals support Sarah Lee and Johnny well. The harmonies are fantastic supported well with soft drums, piano and the steel guitar. Remember your first snow? This will take you back.

"Cry Quieter" opens with wonderful acoustic, soft drums, and tambourine. A tribute to the tragedy that occurred recently in Darfur, inspired by the book The Translator, by Daoud Hari. A great tribute to the human spirit to rise above impossible circumstances.

"Company I'm Keepin'" brings back wonderful memories of the sound of Karen Peris' voice and music from the Innocence Mission. A wonderful love song and appreciation of the bond between two people. "I'll be standing with my arms out reaching. All's I'm trying to tell you is I'm happy with the company I'm keeping." The piano and soft acoustic guitar are wonderful.

"Bright Examples" opens like a Neil Young/Chris Robinson song full of bluesy sway, dirge – like drums, Harmmon and harmonica. It tells Johnny's story of two hikers meeting on the Appalachian Trail. "I met a hiker on the Appalachian Trail. He asked to borrow my phone. I kindly obliged and I let him dial a friend in Boston. Nobody's home again. Seems it's always when ya need 'em the most." The Hammon and harmonica make this a great closer.

Added: February 11th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 2339
Language: english

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