Rhythm & Views

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion

If I were the offspring of, say, one of America's most well-known songwriters, and I decided to go into the family business, either I'd change my name, or I'd make damn sure I was good. Sarah Lee Guthrie is the daughter of Arlo, the granddaughter of Woody, and she does not adhere to my philosophy.

Guthrie and her husband, Johnny Irion, have together written 12 mediocre folkish/countryish (or just plain ish) songs, most of which feature Guthrie's Emmylou Harris-esque vocals delivering lyrics that fall listlessly into the same emotional pigeonholes most songs do. You've got your "everything will be just fine" song ("Holdin' Back"), your "tryin' to get back to you" song ("Kindness"), your "it's hard to drink from an empty glass" song ("Swing of Things"). There are awkwardly political songs ("As I look up at the stars, exploration on Mars, there's a lot left here to do," sing both Irion and Guthrie on "Exploration") and attempts at rehashing standard Americana song themes that sound contrived (case in point: "I'm as high as a Georgia pine since you've been on my mind" from "Georgia Pine"). The acoustic guitar melody on "Mornin's Over," one of two songs written solely by Guthrie, sounds just like Harry Nilsson. The piano plinks along with the guitars, and most of the other instrumentation sounds like your standard studio production enhancement. When there's harmonica, it lacks soul. Which is hard to do with harmonica.

Exploration is, at best, a surface-level exploration of basic roots music which doesn't even begin to explore its more interesting nooks and crannies; if Sarah Lee's last name weren't Guthrie, it's doubtful these songs would have ever felt the inside of a recording studio.

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