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Partners in harmony

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion follow country's back roads


Listen to "Cease Fire"--or almost any song on Exploration, the album from Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion that hit shelves just this week--and experience two voices dancing with and around each other while revealing the comfort, passion and playfulness that comes from signing on to sing together for life. Put it this way: If charm equaled record sales, Exploration would have shipped platinum.

But there's plenty more to the pair than matrimonial harmonies, as first showcased on a solo album each and now brought into crisp focus on this first dual production (not counting daughter Olivia). There's songwriting, most notably on "In Lieu of Flowers" and the reconciliatory "Swing of Things," that sports the kind of phrase-turning and vignette-capturing you find in classic country music. And the sound of Exploration is a blissful marriage of high-test alt-country (Jayhawk Gary Louris co-produced and former members of Son Volt guest) and laid-back California country-rock.

Saturday, March 12, will bring Guthrie and Durham native Irion up from Columbia, S.C., for a CD release show at Cat's Cradle, with local bluegrass heroes Chatham County Line and sun-tangled troubadour Kevn Kinney opening. The show starts at 8:30 p.m.; tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

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