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Album Review

It has been five years and lots of road miles since married couple Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion released their previous duo album, but both have been busy with other projects. From the opening track it's clear that the twosome have decided to explore a lush, dreamy, and classic pop and country style than the more traditionally folksy approach that informed their previous work. Perhaps that was a reaction to being influenced by the music of alternative roots band Vetiver. Irion not only invited frontman Andy Cabic to contribute backing instrumentation, but he co-produced the sessions along with Vetiver's producer Thom Monahan. The rest of that band also contributes to the music, so similarities to its Tight Knit release are inevitable. Longtime friend Gary Louris and his Jayhawks co-founder Mark Olson also appear and help move the sound away from a strictly strummy approach. Most of the songs were recorded with the band and vocalists playing together with minimal overdubs. The result is a sublime, wistful set made even more intimate by Guthrie and Irion's delicate voices. As has been mentioned before, there is no escaping Irion's Neil Young infatuation, especially in the closing title track that sounds like an outtake from After the Gold Rush. Most of the album, though, focuses on tuneful, rootsy folk pop that, like "Hurry Up and Wait," connects with hummable melodies that sink in after a single spin. The tunes often build up from a skeletal beginning to full accompaniment as they progress. Comparisons to She & Him are natural since Irion and Guthrie seem to be headed in a similar retro-pop musical direction and the latter's fragile voice is comparable to Zooey Deschanel's. Occasional pedal steel, most obvious on the soaring Dylan-ish "Seven Sisters" and the swirling "Target on Your Heart," adds a sublime touch entirely in keeping with the country-tinged songs. A drum machine that might be acceptable when stripping down the instrumentation on the road is somewhat out of place on "Dupont Circle," its strict minimalist waltz-time beat marring an otherwise organic session. A few tunes, such as the fluttering "Butterflies" and the fluffy "First Snow" are so feathery they nearly float away, but this is a generally an engaging and skillfully conceived project that takes Guthrie and Irion's natural folk roots and expands on them without losing their natural, and in Guthrie's case familial, thread to the past.


Genre: Psychedelic

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Husband-and-wife folk-pop duo Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion both had creative family pedigrees and ongoing solo musical careers when they met in Los Angeles through a mutual friend, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. Guthrie was the daughter of Arlo Guthrie and the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, while Irion came from a family of musicians and had an uncle, writer Thomas Steinbeck, who was the son of novelist John Steinbeck. Guthrie and Irion married in 1999 and first started performing together...
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Bright Examples, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
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