Album a Day for August: Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, Wassaic Way

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While most of this month will likely consist of me catching up on recent releases, today’s entry is due out officially tomorrow–the latest from husband/wife team Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion.

Guthrie’s family connections (Woody is her grandfather, Arlo is her dad) are an important thread in her music but not so much when she combines forces with Irion, an unrepentant indie-rocker who logged miles with a couple of bands in his younger days before signing on with the Guthrie clan. Together, their music takes on a gossamer 1970’s quality that’s not as retro as Beechwood Sparks but still reminiscent of the classic folk rock of a certain era. Production duties were assumed here by Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone of Wilco, but the overall sound is so much in line with the couple’s previous work that their star power is subtle and not really all that noticeable.

Opening track “Chairman Meow”, for example, shines like a Fleetwood Mac album cut with a little Beatles melody or two thrown in, while the Sarah-led title track is part Joni Mitchell, part Mary Hopkins, a wispy breath of beauty that just floats by, without creating much of an impression other than “oh, that’s nice.”

Irion’s Neil Young tendencies are more prominent on his solo work, but the gently insistent “Probably Gone” builds on a simple riff in the same manner that Young employs so frequently it’s almost a sonic signature.

Oddly enough, the strongest songs are packed in at the end of the album, from the hypnotic duet “9 Out of 10 Times” that anyone who has seen them play live in the last few years will remember vividly, to “Hurricane Window”, a rousing folk anthem penned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that’s one of the best songs Irion has written. It’s a call to action, a protest song, and an ode to the survival instinct, all rolled into a memorable chorus: “You gotta give ’em hell, before you get any help.”

With this release, Guthrie and Irion introduce their own Route 8 label, going the true indie direction, business-wise, and giving ’em a little hell themselves.

Listen to the new album via the NY Times here

Here’s a fun live take on “Chairman Meow”

 

 

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