"We're huge Jayhawks fans, and Gary knew how to sing harmonies from his early days with Mark Olson," she says. "He had never produced a record before, but the timing was just right for him. He was kind of getting sick of being on the road after 18 years with The Jayhawks, and he wanted to move in a different direction. Six months later, we wound up in Minneapolis doing the record with him. And now, he's got loads of people wanting him to produce their records."
Louris brought Dave Boquist and Eric Heywood from Son Volt into the recording sessions. Irion recruited his old band mate Zeke Hutchins (currently ' with Tift Merritt's band) to play the drums on the record. Greg Readling from the bluegrass outfit Chatham County Line also pitched in on piano to round out the disc's sound.
The duo's result, "Exploration," opens with "In Lieu of Flowers," a Willie Nelson flavored country shuffle inspired by an article Irion read about a trust fund established in Texas for guitar players without health insurance.
"It was an article about a guitar player who had died, and it said people could send donations to this fund in lieu of flowers. That kinda spawned the song," Irion explains.
Guthrie explores the expectations put upon her by her family legacy on the track, "Holdin' Back." She recalls, "I took a vacation up to Massachusetts before we recorded the album. I had a whole farmhouse to myself, and I was determined to write a song. Some of the words in there are autobiographical, but it's really a song to anybody who is afraid to step into their own shoes and explore their own creativity."
The rock anthem "Gervais" is bound to stir up some controversy in the couple's hometown of Columbia, S.C.
As Irion explains, "Gervais is the main street that runs through town where they still fly the Confederate flag," a fact that clearly rubs Irion and Guthrie the wrong way.
The song's chorus sets forth the pair's feelings loud and clear: "Still flying the flag up on Gervais/Was a battleflag, now we can put it away."
"I just felt like that song needed to be written," Irion adds.
Country fans will be pleased by Guthrie's musical homage to Hoyt Axton on the track, "Mornin's Over."
Despite the doses of progressive politics and social commentary included in much of the lyrics, listeners will find "Exploration" to be a generally cheerful and life-affirming album. This is no mistake, as Guthrie explains, "It's a positive record. There are not a lot of downers and break your heart songs. It's an album to make you feel good."
For their immediate future, Guthrie and Irion plan to tour extensively in support of the new record. Joining them on the road is an unlikely traveling companion: their two-year-old daughter, Olivia.
"She's done over 300 shows, so she knows the drill," he says.
For her part, Guthrie reflects, "I was raised on the road by my mother, so it doesn't seem so weird to me. Still, some people just can't imagine it. It's been going really fine, and she's an incredible kid."
"She's totally musical," Guthrie continues. "She gets up on stage with us sometimes on low-key nights when we play to folky crowds. She loves to get on the microphone and sing."
So, could a fourth generation of Guthries some day take the music world by storm? "It'd be nice. I'd love to play with her someday," Guthrie admits.
Following the current tour, the door is open for duo to record as solo artists or to crank out more joint projects. Furthermore, the mix of styles on "Exploration" also leaves them opportunities to pursue other genres.
"We're under-the-radar, traveling musicians," Guthrie says. "So, we don't have to try to satisfy a certain group of people or even appeal to the masses. We're happy doing what we do."
"We definitely could have gone in and made a straight folk record, and I think we will someday," Irion says. "We'll also make a rock record. On this one, we kind of wanted to be able to go anywhere from here. It's our launching pad. I think we did the groundwork to do anything we want to do in the future."
But could Guthrie ever record a punk rock album without disparaging the family name? "Of course!" she exclaims with an audible smile. "That's part of the fun of it - ruffling a few feathers."
"And Woody Guthrie was quite the punk rocker himself," she adds.