Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Exploration

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion Exploration
As the daughter of Arlo Guthrie and granddaughter of Woody, Sarah Lee Guthrie’s musical pedigree should not be in question. And although this debut with her husband Irion is a true collaboration, the pure, direct expression of the Guthrie legacy is what instantly shines through. Co-produced by Jayhawk Gary Louris and featuring backing from various members of that band as well as Son Volt, much of Exploration lives up to its title by capturing a sense of Guthrie and Irion’s relationship, both personal and professional, at its most innocent stages. It’s tempting to draw comparisons to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris on songs like "In Lieu Of Flowers” and "Holdin’ Back,” although instead of the world-weariness that defined their harmonies, Guthrie and Irion exude a hopefulness that can’t be denied, especially in Guthrie’s childlike voice, which in its own way contains all the defiance of her forebears. As might be expected, there are nods to the Guthrie political legacy too, with a cover of Pete Seeger’s "Dr. King,” and Irion’s "Gervais,” but overall, Exploration is classic Americana, and proof that sometimes the offspring of legendary artists can live up to the family name.

You’ve been involved in music all your life, but not really as an artist until a few years ago. Did you feel any pressure making this album? Guthrie: No, not at all. We got really lucky in that we were able to get all the people we wanted to work with, like Gary Louris, and we were able to get it all done in a little over a week.

This is an equal partnership, so how did you decide whose songs got recorded? Guthrie: It was fairly obvious what songs we should do, and Gary helped out a lot with that too. For me, songwriting and performing are two different things. When we do Johnny’s songs, I feel they’re just as much mine as they are his. Irion: The main thing was we wanted to make a strong effort to have us both sing together on the songs, so we spent a lot of time with the band to get that right before we started recording. Things have been evolving from there, so I’m really excited about what the next one will sound like.

Given your family history, do you feel a natural affinity toward making political statements in your music? Guthrie: I guess just through the morals I was raised with, I feel a need to make the world a better place, as anybody should. It just happens that I play music. But the same things are going on as when Woody was around, so I just try to see them from my generation’s perspective. (New West)