BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Sarah Lee Guthrie
"Sarah Lee Guthrie"
(Rising Son Records)
(Rising Son Records)
Pedigrees can be impediments. With so much riding on a
famous family legacy, many genetically enhanced artists
collapse under the weight of the expectations and hype.
Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of
Woody, and her husband Johnny Irion, grandson of "Oklahoma!"
star Fred Knight and grand-nephew of John Steinbeck,
certainly have sturdy laurels upon which they could
recline. Guthrie's surname alone would be a marquee draw,
even if she stunk.
But she doesn't stink. In fact, she's the most
intriguing new female voice in Americana music since the
discovery of Gillian Welch.
Guthrie's self-titled debut — arriving after years of
performing with her father, including two appearances at
the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah — moseys with an
welcoming gait. Not another Emmylou Harris wanna-be is she,
although this album smiles and moves with the same measured
No, Guthrie is an original talent, coloring outside the
lines of the basic Americana patterns (dig the drunken Kurt
Weill surf music of the instrumental "Tarantula," or the
chuggin' blues of "World Turns in G") and sings strongly
through the jangle and jazzy bluegrass. Her rounded notes
sound like Linda Ronstadt in the '70s, her sustained verses
like Nanci Griffith in the '80s. The Guthrie genes are
gifted ones, no doubt.
Irion's debut is somewhere between Neil Young's "Comes a
Time" and "Old Ways" albums. The song "Think Tank," especially --
it's loping rhythm and mopey whining about "the city of
angels" rings of all that southern California country-rock
from similarly exiled and flighty Southerners, from the
Byrds to the Eagles.
Irion is a better player (esp. the dobro) than a singer --
which, of course, never slowed down Young — but the
skinny-boy swagger of "Unity Lodge" will be satisfying to the
men who can't get into Guthrie's music. Irion's easier to
drink beer to, that's for certain, but Guthrie's the one
destined to be the star, even without the family tree to
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.