Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion: Bright Examples

Bright Examples is the second album by husband and wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.  That name you recognize is legit; Sarah Lee is the daughter of Arlo, granddaughter of Woody.  A busy couple, in the last five years they have recorded a children’s album and a solo album by Johnny, released a live DVD, toured with her famous father and moved across the country while parenting their two youngsters!  It is clear none of that took away from the delicate care the couple put into creating Bright Examples, a more than worthy addition to the Guthrie lineage.

Bright Examples has plaintive, patient arrangements, elegiac singing, and lap steel guitar vs. Hammond organ duels.  Musicianship and production are of pristine quality across the board – it is clear this music pulses through the blood of these artists and their band.  A great deal of the album was recorded live as a group and the dynamics of face-to-face interplay shines brightly. “Speed of Light”, the album’s third track is a bouncy, soul-country nugget that packs all the right hooks into 2:48.  With a little Stevie Nicks in the melody and arrangement it’s a winner. “Hurry Up”, has just enough friendly, hip swaying groove to match potent lyrics – “Take a moment now to find you, all the beauty surrounding/No matter how dark it gets don’t pull those blinds down friend”. 

Guthrie’s combination of a husky, full vocal tone and knack for writing and then hitting very pretty, high melodies is powerful and on “Seven Sisters” husband and wife take a cue from Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons.  By channeling that treasured harmonic style and syncing up with passion it becomes abundantly clear this is not an ordinary country rock album.   “Butterflies” is another notable track where the band and Guthrie slooowly wind their way into a dreamy slice of psych pop as they create a new “rustic baroque” genre.  In other places, Bright Examples recalls Neil Young’s early style of mournful, sparse balladry where the instrumentation complements and supports instead of disturbs.  Album closer “Cry Quieter” again nails divine harmonies to engagingly fresh melodies.   

A laid back precision may be Bright Examples hallmark.  That place where music surges gracefully like a passing river in a crystal moonlit night.  This music is simultaneously hushed and vibrant, pulsing and meticulous, lucid and a little scruffy.  Pretty cool parents for those kids.   

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