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Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion

Exploration – 2005 (New West)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion

Sarah Lee Guthrie, the feminine half of this duo, is the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie and the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, so she was at least born with a genetic inclination to create credible music. Although her dad and granddad's repertoires are packed with left-leaning folk songs, only the cover of Pete Seeger's "Dr. King" hints at her familial roots here. Instead, it's the presence of co-producer Gary Louris (of The Jayhawks), which offers the best indicator of what "Exploration" sounds like. This is a collection of homey country, for the most part.

Whereas Guthrie comes off like a less childlike Victoria Williams whenever she sings, Johnny Irion stands out by far as the hick-iest side of the pair. And even though country is the base point for this work, there is still plenty of musical variety to be found throughout. For instance, this work contains an abundance of plucked banjo and gusty harmonica work, in addition to Eric Heywood's consistently colorful pedal steel. Furthermore, a few tracks offer up striking tempo and sonic changes, such as the full-bodied rock found on "Gervais," as well as Guthrie's soulful vocal pleading, which drives "Gotta Prove."

While both Irion and Guthrie write, Irion gets the majority of the songwriting credits for this 12-song set. "Exploration" is an ambitious title for this CD, even though it's a bit of a misnomer. That's because, from start to finish, Guthrie & Irion sound right at home in the midst of these homespun grooves.