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flag US - Massachusetts - Full Moon 217 - 05/14/14

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion
Kult & Genuss, Mönchengladbach, Germany, April 24, 2014

Sarah Lee Guthrie is beaming. The owner of Kult & Genuss, tonight's venue at the outskirts of German small town Mönchengladbach, has just told her that most people bought tickets for tonight's sold out "Vino e musica" performance on the strength of the song "Hurricane Window" streaming on the website, and not because of the famous family name. It seems that after 15 years and three excellent albums with an Americana twist, Sarah Lee and her husband Johnny Irion have managed to carve their own identity outside the family business.

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion There's no stage at Kult & Genuss. In the "Vino e musica" series, the artists play amidst dining tables, with minimal lightning and on the floor while patrons are enjoying their meals. Not an easy gig by any means, but Sarah Lee and Johnny can pull it off. In fact, the two Americans don't need more than two acoustic guitars and a single microphone they share to present the songs from their three albums, touching on classic folk and country with "In Lieu Of Flowers", captivate their audience with perfect harmonies and 60s pop songs with a hint of Beatles magic like "Never Too Far From My Heart" or "Speed Of Light" and manage to even take things a step further with the beautifully crafted new songs from their current album Wassaic Way, co-produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone. "Lowest Ebb" is especially exciting with its tempo and mood changes and is a prime example for what can be done in under four minutes with just two very flexible voices and a couple of guitars (one of which doubles as a percussion instrument).

But there's more: They sing timeless songs by Sarah Lee's grandfather Woody like "I Ain't Got No Home" or "Pastures Of Plenty" as well as songs from their children's record Go Waggaloo, like the cute "Don't I Fit In My Daddy's Shoes", inspired by the shoe fetish of their youngest daughter Sophia, and the splendidly titled "Chairmen Meow" off of their most recent album.

Johnny Irion But the duo just doesn't entertain with their songs alone: In-between the music, they are happy to share tons of (family) stories, that they tell in the same way that they play music: With lots of passion and an impressive, positive vibe. This may well be what separates them from a lot of likeminded artists. The two of them don't seem to make music in order to come to terms with hardship they have endured, they genuinely seem to love sharing the nicer things in life with their audience and brighten up their day, without ever coming across as light-hearted or even shallow.

Sarah Lee Guthrie No wonder then that they don't get irritated when some people in the cheap seats get a little tipsy and noisy in the second part of the show. First Johnny simply busts out the German chestnut "Marble, Stone and Iron Breaks" and has the entire place sing along within seconds, later on, Sarah Lee quietens down the entire restaurant with a lovely a-cappella, off-mike rendition of "Birds And Ships" off of the Mermaid Avenue album. With the audience back in their lap, they finally unplug their guitars and play the remaining songs without any kind of amplification, including a goose bumps version of their own "When The Lilacs Are In Bloom" plus welcome fallbacks on the Woody catalog with "California Stars" and the closing "This Land Is Your Land", that has everyone in the audience sing along without prompt ing and provides the perfect close for an enchanting evening.

Copyright © 2014 (photos included) Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

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