Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion announce UK tour
aaamusic | On 12, Sep 2011
From the 2011 release, Bright Examples on Ninth Street Opus Records
SARAH LEE GUTHRIE & JOHNNY IRION
LABEL NINTH STREET OPUS
CAT. NO. NS010
RELEASE DATE SEPTEMBER 12 2011
SIX DATE UK MINI-TOUR · SEPTEMBER 27 – OCTOBER 2 2011
A lot can happen in five years, and for the husband-and-wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, the time between Exploration, their first album together in 2005, and Bright Examples, their new, full-length collaborative project featuring producers Andy Cabic (lead singer/songwriter in the band Vetiver) and Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Vetiver), has been one nonstop whirlwind of activity. Not only has the couple toured extensively both as a duo and as part of the “Guthrie Family Rides Again” tour (with Sarah Lee’s dad, Arlo Guthrie), they’ve also released the children’s album Go Waggaloo (Smithsonian Folkways), a live DVD entitled Folk Song, a solo album by Johnny (Ex Tempore), parented their two young daughters and moved from South Carolina to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, near where Sarah Lee was raised.
Bright Examples finds Guthrie and Irion taking their patented country-rock sound and tilting it in a direction Guthrie describes as “more atmospheric or psychedelic, sort of dreamy but colorful.” Recorded at Dreamland Studios near Woodstock, N.Y., the album features a dozen original compositions, chosen from more than 50 they’d accumulated over the past five years. “It was really great to have that many songs,” says Guthrie, “but at the same time, what do you do with the rest? They weren’t any less good. We just picked the songs that we thought went together well.”
Bright Examples was co-produced by Andy Cabic, the prime mover behind the San Francisco pastoral psych-rock band Vetiver, and Thom Monahan, who has worked with Vetiver as well as Devendra Banhart, the Pernice Brothers and Jayhawks vocalist Gary Louris, who just happened to have produced Exploration for Sarah Lee and Johnny. Members of Vetiver provide the instrumental accompaniment on Bright Examples as well as special guest artists including Louris (vocals), Mark Olson (The Jayhawks, vocals), Otto Houser (Vetiver, drums), Neal Casal (guitar), Kevin Barker and Charlie Rose (pedal steel, flat picking guitars), and Rad Lorkovic (piano).
Monahan was recruited to co-produce after Irion heard Vetiver’s Thing of the Past album. “The acoustic guitars were amazing, the electrics were amazing”, says Irion. “I thought, if we could make a record that sounds that good, I’ll be happy. And that got me fired up about making a new studio album.”
The songwriting on Bright Examples reflects many of the experiences and emotions that Sarah Lee and Johnny have encountered over the past half-decade, and the production is crisp, consistently imaginative and captures the spontaneity of the tracks being recorded live with a full ensemble. Vibrant instrumental accents arrive via pedal steel guitar, accordion, piano, Hammond organ and a wall of guitars, and rich vocal harmonies abound, influenced by great duo acts like the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers. One track, ‘Seven Sisters’, features a reunion of sorts between original Jayhawks, Gary Louris and Mark Olson. The grooves range from funky New Orleans soul to ’60s-esque power pop to honky-tonk country, a feel-good vibe coursing throughout the tracks.
Sarah Lee and Johnny first met briefly in Raleigh, North Carolina, then, via a mutual friend, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, they ran into each other again in Southern California, where they’d both gone to live. Johnny had gone to L.A. to join a band called Freight Train after his stint with Dillon Fence, who’d toured with the Crowes, and Sarah Lee was working in a record shop. Irion had also previously spent several years as an influential member of Queen Sarah Saturday. Upon Sarah Lee moving to California, a series of events led to her becoming, first her father’s tour manager, and then discovering her own latent musical talents. Irion recalls, they realized that despite an earlier shared interest in punk rock, they were now both drawn to the music of the late country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons and his band the Flying Burrito Brothers. Johnny taught Sarah Lee a few chords and one thing soon led to another.
“Sarah Lee and I tried to do a Gram song and we did it pretty good”, Irion says. “Then we decided to get married, which brought us to the South. Then there was a year of doing solo stuff and we did a show together, just kind of an impromptu thing, and it went really well. We decided to take it on the road. Then we had a baby and…”
Exploration, their first effort as a duo, was met with glowing reviews – Uncut stated, “Welch and Rawlings apart – it’s hard to recall two modern country voices that dovetail as elegantly as this husband and wife team… A dream”, and last year’s kids’ record, Go Waggaloo, which garnered press from such outlets as USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and People.com, was considered by many a breath of fresh air in a market that often finds adult performers underestimating their intended audience. Released by Smithsonian Folkways, Go Waggaloo included contributions from Sarah Lee and Johnny’s own kids, and guests including Arlo, Pete Seeger and Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez Seeger. Three of the songs on the recording were created from lyrics written by Sarah Lee’s late grandfather, the legendary Woody Guthrie, that had never before been set to music. “It was a lot of fun”, says Guthrie, “a very homespun record that took off”.
But now, their focus is squarely on Bright Examples and beyond. “We’re not going to wait another five years for the next record”, says Guthrie. “We’re on a roll now. We can’t wait to get back in the studio”.
SARAH LEE GUTHRIE & JOHNNY IRION · UK TOUR
SEPTEMBER 27 – OCTOBER 2 2011
Tues 27 London The Slaughtered Lamb
8444 771 000 / www.electroacousticclub.com £12, 7.30pm
Weds 28 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
0113 2455570 / www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk £12, 7.30pm
Thurs 29 Bedford Civic Theatre
01234 269519 / www.bedfordcornexchange.co.uk £12, 7.30pm
Fri 30 Chichester The Chichester Inn
West Sussex 01243 774641 / www.rootsaroundtheworld.info £10, 8pm
Sat 1 Newcastle Upon Tyne Cluny 2
0191 230 4474 / www.jumpinhot.com £12, 8pm
Sun 2 Brighton The Pavilion Theatre @ The Dome
01273 709709 / www.brightondome.org/PavilionTheatre.aspx £12, 7.30pm
“a sublime, wistful set made even more intimate by Guthrie and Irion’s delicate voices.” All Music Guide
“Bright Examples doesn’t explode their folk background so much as push it to the side in favor of a dreamy roots pop that falls somewhere between She & Him and Neil Young’s Harvest…a bold step forward for Guthrie and Irion, but one soundly tethered to their folk roots.” Austin Chronicle
“Its sweet, dreamy moodiness and electric guitar give it an almost West Coast psych-Americana feel…Irion’s warm but bittersweet voice and Guthrie’s, pure and breathy, work beautifully together and alone.” Mojo (4 Stars)
“This folk royalty has truly carved its own equally charming path.” Relix Magazine
“There’s an impressive cast list here, but it’s the subtle interplay and snug harmonies of Guthrie and Irion that really shine. Bright Examples is imbued with the hazy tones of the Laurel Canyon folk boom, an effect further enhanced by Irion’s spooky resemblance to early Neil Young and Guthrie’s occasional flutter into Joni territory. These lovely songs are rich, melodic and often memorable.” Uncut (4 Stars)