Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion

Exploration (New West)

SXSW Records

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion

Exploration (New West)

Although they've released albums separately and have been touring together like mad for the past couple of years, Exploration is the first album as a duo from Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion. Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody and daughter to Arlo, and South Carolina-based Irion verify the sum-is-greater-than-its-parts axiom. Both were attractive as solo artists; together they bring each other to another level. It may be a little too early to compare Guthrie and Irion to the likes of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris or Buddy and Julie Miller, but there are moments on Exploration when their voices meld that perfectly. Their music springs from the same well of country rock and folk that Parsons drew from, especially on Irion-penned tunes like "Kindness" and "Mixed Blessings." Part of the album's success traces to the production by the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and Ed Ackerson of Polaris, also based in Minneapolis. With help from Marc Perlman, another Jayhawk; Dave Boquist and Eric Heywood, both ex-Son Volt; and Zeke Hutchins, who drums for Tift Merritt, they create a sound that's remarkably close to the rootsy side of the Jayhawks. The big difference being the splendid way that Guthrie's and Irion's voices mingle. Not all the tunes are memorable, closing rocker "Gotta Prove" sounds forced and out of place, but overall, Exploration is an admirable beginning for this remarkably talented couple. (Saturday, March 19, 11pm @ Cactus Cafe)

***

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