Thursday, May 6, 2004
In the 1930s, author John Steinbeck and folk musician Woody Guthrie were each chronicling the plight of migrant workers living in California. Guthrie even named one of his songs, “Tom Joad,” after the protagonist in Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath .
Today, the Guthries and Steinbecks still have similar sensibilities, as evidenced by the marital and musical union of Sarah Lee Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody and daughter of ‘60s folksinger Arlo, and Johnny Irion, nephew of Thomas Steinbeck, son of John.
On the phone from a recording studio in Los Angeles, where the couple is mixing their debut album with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks, Guthrie says that the duo feels empowered rather than intimidated by their family trees.
A listen to the duet’s seven-song EP, Entirely Live, proves that the couple is not content to ride on the coattails of their relatives. The first song, “Georgia Pine,” is a languid duet. One of the best things about the release is the beautiful harmonizing between Irion and Guthrie that gives this song and others a traditional feel. “Our harmonies are tight,” Guthrie says. “It’s almost like The Louvin Brothers or the Carter Family.”
While the EP contains other folk tunes, such as a cover of Mike Paxton’s “Thirty Inch Coal,” the release also has a rock feel, due to songs like “Gervais,” a great Irion-penned number, which sounds like a lost Neil Young track.
Guthrie believes that the mixture of sounds is due to Irion’s past work in rock and blues bands and Guthrie’s roots in folk and country music.
On the last song of the EP, “There’ll Be No Church Tonight,” the couple takes Woody Guthrie lyrics from his unreleased archives and sets it to music, a move reminiscent of the two recent Mermaid Avenue albums recorded by Billy Bragg and Wilco. The song is a bawdy tale of a preacher’s indiscretions after a Sunday supper. Guthrie says that the pair chose the song because, “It was funny,” she says. “I like the humor in it. It was risky. Johnny calls it risqué.”
The couple hopes to release their full-length CD, Explorations , by early fall. Even though “Georgia Pine” and “Gervais” will be included on the CD, Guthrie insists that the album will be a little different than their previous work. “It’s definitely more rocking than what we have done in the past,” she says.
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion play Thursday night at the Plaza Linda Restaurant, 9 Delfino Place in Carmel Valley, at 7:30pm. $10. Call 659-4229 for reservations.