Monday, February 21, 2011

Album Review: Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion - Bright Examples

When I first put on Bright Examples, the second album from husband and wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, I was surprised.

Much of the expected traditional country twang is gone. In its place is a pastoral folk sound reminiscent of late 60’s and early 70’s. After learning how much has changed for the couple in the last five years - a move from South Carolina to Massachusetts and two children - it made sense that their music would change along with them.

With help from members of Vetiver and The Jayhawks, Guthrie and Irion have recorded a gorgeous album that gets more rewarding with every listen. Bright Examples is more laid back than a hippie in a recliner, but the constant motion within its layers prevent it from dragging.

Irion’s growth as a songwriter shows throughout the album. His strongest effort, the gospel tinged title track, moves gracefully between dissonance and consonance to wonderful effect. The strong lyrics telling the tale of two strangers meeting on the Appalachian Trail whose “conversation needed trellis nor trim” complete the track.

While Irion takes the lead in both songwriting and singing more often, Guthrie has her moments. Most notable is the organ and steel guitar rich “Seven Sisters,” but the innocent and shimmering “Butterflies” also deserves a mention.

It’s human nature to resist change, but by embracing it Guthrie and Irion have created a record that really stands apart from their past work.

Bright Examples will be released on February 22 via Ninth Street Opus. Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion will open for Vetiver at The Pinhook in Durham on March 24.

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