Music can be a family
thing. Throughout the history of popular music there
have been all kinds of family groups, going all the way
back and all the way up, from the Monroe Brothers and
the Carter Family to the Beach Boys, the Kinks and Oasis.
However, for some reason, once someones children
get involved, whether on their own or in a group, there
seems to be an air of resentment to say the least, from
critics in particular. The pinnacle of this resentment
was probably Julian Lennon. When Jakob Dylans band
The Wallflowers went on their first national tour before
the release of their first album, Jakob avoided publicity,
wouldnt introduce the band members on stage and
didnt want anyone to know who he was. On the other
hand, country and western musicians had no problem with
family and many of them included their kids in their shows.
Very few of these kids ever reached anything approaching
stardom. The pressures of wondering if theyre good
enough to live up to a legacy must be enormous.
Sarah Lee Guthrie
probably had a lot of help in that department since her
dad, Arlo, had to go through it as well. Arlo conquered
the "son-of" thing by managing to embrace it and ignore
it at the same time. He never tried to be the songwriter
his father was, and he had an engaging personality and
was extremely funny, delivering concerts that usually
turned out to be a moving experience.
When Warner Brothers finally
dropped Arlo Guthrie a couple of decades ago, he pretty
much said the hell with the established music business
and formed his own label Rising Son. When it came time
for his kids (who had been appearing at his concerts for
years) to make their own records, why should they go through
the hassle of dealing with the major labels or the indies?
Sarah Lee Guthries
eponymous debut has nothing to do with living up to musical
expectations, famous fathers or legendary grandfathers.
At the same time it reflects the music she obviously grew
up with: folk, country, occasionally rock and roll, a
touch of swingy blues, and a rather madcap, ragtime instrumental.
She is not a remarkable
singer or an astounding songwriter, but shes not
bad either. Her voice and her songs have a friendly, invitational
quality. And a more than cursory listen reveals theres
a bit more here than appears on the surface.
Curiously she opens up
with a Hoyt Axton-Mark Dawson song, "In a Young Girls
Mind" (with Arlo playing harp and singing harmony) that
gets darker with each verse. Guthrie makes it her own.
She follows this with a slow ballad, "Livin by the
Open Door," that turns out to be a tribute to her parents.
The next song, "All Filled Up," is a short a cappella
one-liner, "Im all filled up like a bucket of rain,"
sung to a background of rain and thunder. The vocal fades
in, and while Im usually skeptical of such production
touches, this one works. This leads into "Rainbow," one
of the albums standouts. Incorporating both a pedal
steel and Mariachi-flavored horns into the arrangement,
she sings, "The rainbow is my favorite color, I could
never choose just one," and later, "Music is my favorite
purpose, I could never choose just one." So if one were
to criticize this album for being musically all over the
place, Guthrie comes right out and admits it.
"Never In One Place" utilizes
another dubious production touch; it sounds like perhaps
shes singing long distance, over a phone. But theres
a sad, almost spooky melody and an electric guitar solo
mood by Guthries husband, Johnny Irion, that totally
fits the mood.
"Lazy Tongue," another
standout, is a casual and catchy swingy affair that one
could imagine Maria Muldaur doing, and "World Turns in
G" is a country rocker thats fun but nothing special.
The album closes with a
sing-along, "Youve Got To Sing," with a whole chorus
of people clapping hands and stomping boots. This song
is really where the family legacy is apparent because
it sounds like something you would hear at an Arlo concert.
And to top it off in a bit of love and theft, the melody
is actually Bob Dylans "Walkin Down the Line."
While some of the production
touches border on silly and the guitars arent quite
as funky as youd like them to be, Sarah Lee Guthrie
isnt out to change the world. More than anything
else the feeling comes across that shes just out
to play some music with her family and her friends.
first album for Vanguard, 7 Wishes, is a much
slicker affair. On first listen the production seems cold
and the playing is so clean it sounds mechanical. Morrison
is going for a contemporary R&B sound and at times
the production almost hides the heart in her vocals.
Morrison, daughter of Van,
sang with her fathers band for a few years and made
her debut on one of his live albums, A Night in San
Its not until the
albums fourth track, "A Song for the Broken," that
the passion Morrison is clearly capable of comes through.
The song is obviously written for a friend messing up
his life up; she sings this one like she means it, and
the stripped-down arrangement in comparison with the rest
of the album helps a lot. The less-is-more approach to
"Day After Yes" is heightened by a funky groove, making
it one of the albums more appealing tracks.
One of the problems with
the music business for the last few decades is that most
singers feel they have to sing their own songs. When Shana
sings her fathers "Naked in the Jungle" a song released
on The Philosophers Stone, his album
of rarities and songs lost along the way, the difference
in writing is a bit too apparent (and this is not one
of Vans greatest songs). But its not that
she cant write a good song, as "St. Christopher"
What Shana Morrison can
definitely do is sing. She can be tough and nasty when
she wants to and definitely funky. Theres no doubt
what shes singing about on "Cherry on Top," which
if there is any justice should get a lot of airplay. She
does a fine job on her fathers "Sometimes We Cry,"
to which he lends back-up vocals and harmonica (sound
The album ends on a spiritual
note with the gospel-tinged "God Must Love Me," followed
by the bonus track, "Connection," which is hampered by
the unnecessary use of a sitar.
7 Wishes reveals
a powerful and determined singer. With more down-to-earth
production and truly topnotch songs, she could be a force
to be reckoned with.