There was love in the heart of the city of London when Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion played the basement of The Slaughtered Lamb last night. If the pub sounds familiar, the name is from the movie ‘An American Werewolf in London‘.
Thankfully for this husband and wife folk-rock duo their welcome was much warmer.
The pair have great artistic credentials, Johnny is the great nephew of Thomas Steinbeck while Sarah is the Grand-daughter of Woody Guthrie and Daughter of legendary ‘political’ folksinger Arlo Guthrie so it’s in their genes (and their jeans).
Latest release Bright Examples has been on my stereo constantly the last few weeks. Perhaps its surprising given Sarah Lee’s political ancestry, but it’s a record completely free from protest songs, instead you get a collection of folk/country/rock tracks written by a pair very much in love.
Accompanied tonight by Charles on bass and acoustic guitar, and Zeek on drums, the band excel at being both reserved and expressive. Thanks to an excellent sound (and new strings), their laid back songs ebb and flow from the small PA system like the tides of the Housatonic River back in their small hometown of Washington MA.
Sarah Lee’s soft country voice shines through on tracks like the beautiful Seven Sisters, and the dreamy Ahead of Myself. If there was a mathematical equation to describe this band it would be something like: The Carpenters multiplied by The Jayhawks divided by (After the Goldrush) Neil Young.
They are the musical equivalent of comfort food or curling up next to a roaring fire after a cold day in the snow. Between songs the pair share personal stories of their lives in Massachusetts and memories of friends, and they are so lovely you NEARLY want to hate them, but you just can’t (but it does makes me wonder what they could write together if they split up, remember Fleetwood Mac!).
Among the setlist is some great new songs, material from Johnny’s previous solo records and a brilliant cover of Jim and Ingird Croce’s Spin Spin Spin.
Their world seems to be a very nice place, and it was interesting to find out their 2 young children travel with them on tour. Tonight they have a babysitter so they stay for an encore, and we are treated to an Acappella / Billy Bragg / Woody Guthrie piece by Sarah Lee and to finish up, another highlight from Bright Examples ‘Speed of Light’.
Comfy sofas, Good beer, great music, I can imagine this is what Thanksgiving around at the Guthries is like, and they were so friendly at one point I thought they were going to invite everyone round.
After the lights went up it got me thinking, maybe I was wrong. Sarah Lee and Johnny’s celebration of mutual love is so endearing and contagious that maybe their songs ARE as political as Woody and Arlo Guthrie’s after all. They are just going about it from a different angle.