Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Bright Examples

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Bright Examples
(Ninth Street Opus)
[Rating: 3 stars]

Sarah Lee Guthrie is the third generation of America’s first family of folk. The youngest daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody, Sarah Lee has been recording music for almost around a decade. Bright Examples marks her second official collaboration with her husband, Johnny Irion, an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right.

The music on Bright Examples follows less in the Guthrie’s folkie footsteps than in the Americana pop legacy of the Jayhawks. This latter influence shouldn’t be surprising since the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris produced the couple’s first disc (2005’s Exploration) and appears here (both as a singer and co-writer) as does his Jayhawks co-frontman Mark Olson. Moreover, Irion and Guthrie’s vocals blend together in such a lovely way that they recall the Jayhawks’ signature harmonies.

Love is a topic the couple touches upon throughout the disc. Lines like “I want you and no one else,” “I think of our love, babe/every time the wind blows,” and “Don’t you know that I love you” appear in various album tracks, and the couple’s genuine warmth and affection might be best summed up in the line, Sarah Lee sings near the disc’s end, “I’m happy with the company I’m keeping.”

This disc was produced by Vetiver’s Andy Cabic and veteran producer Thom Monahan (who has helmed Vetiver discs), and it projects a lush, dreamy sound that’s exemplified in the ethereal opening cut, “Ahead of Myself.” There also is a warm, organic quality to both the music and the lyrics (with songs mentioning snowfalls, woods, butterflies and, in the title track, the Appalachian trail).

Bright Examples exudes a gentle beauty and easy-going charm (perhaps reflecting Guthrie’s recent time making family music), but it is not totally tranquil. “Dupont Circle,” a waltz-y tale of a New Orleans transplants in Washington D.C., is enlivened with an electric guitar solo, while the melodic folk-rocker “Hurry Up And Wait” offers a hint of George Harrison-like guitar. The tale of warning “Target On Your Heart” and the song of absent love “Never Far From My Heart” also stand out as notable examples of Guthrie and Irion’s magical chemistry together, as do the chimey “Speed of Light” and heart-aching “Cry Quieter.” While the disc’s quiet, soft-focused qualities makes it an easy listen, Bright Examples holds enough memorable songs to make it a rewarding listen too.

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