Guthrie: The 3rd generation

By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


September 20, 2005

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Grade: A

Sometimes, the freshest new music sounds the most familiar. Such is the case with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, whose debut album recalls country, folk and rock music's rich past but is wholly original.

Guthrie, daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody, has been making her own music only since meeting husband Irion (eye-ree-un) several years ago. Together, in six Irion originals, two by Guthrie and three co-written, they make the sweetest music this side of Johnny and June -- or Gram and Emmylou. Helping out on guitar and giving the CD a Jayhawks vibe is co-producer Gary Louris, ex-Son Volt members Dave Boquist (fiddle, banjo) and Eric Heywood (pedal steel), and Tift Merritt drummer Zeke Hutchins.

The couple take on, well, couples, on the musical gift "In Lieu of Flowers"; the gentle, moving-in account of "Swing of Things"; and the lilting tale of being high on love in "Georgia Pine."

Guthrie adds some autobiographical flavor to "Holdin' Back," a call to go for it in life, and the title song warns, "Fear is what they want/don't let them get your goat."

The CD's core, however, is two songs touching on America's struggle with race. "Dr. King" is an Irion adaptation of an unrecorded Pete Seeger song, and "Gervais," a Neil Young-style rocker, calls for the lowering of the Confederate flag that flies on Gervais Street in the couple's hometown of Columbia, S.C.

Smart writing, wonderful melodies and harmonies, and a tight, sympathetic band -- "Exploration" is well worth seeking out.

Guthrie and Irion are scheduled to perform Sept. 24, 2005, at the Pageant, opening for Ray LaMontagne.