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Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion, with Kevn Kinney

Sunday, March 20, at the Hobby Center's Zilkha Hall, 800 Bagby, 713-315-2525.

Two of modern folk/Americana's freshest faces are a duo both professionally and personally. And though they'd previously released solo records, Exploration, their debut as a duet, shows this sum is definitely stronger than its parts. The ear-pleasing, mostly originals record finds both Guthrie and Irion singing, playing guitar and writing, and the album has a Jayhawks-like feel to it -- which is not surprising, since it includes that act's Gary Louris (who also co-produced) and Marc Perlman in the backing band. It also has a real personality -- tough to come by in this time when it seems that every subscriber to No Depressionis coming out with his own rootsier-than-thou band. The steel cry of "In Lieu of Flowers" and "Swing of Things," the rollicking "Holdin' Back" and the Dylanesque "Mixed Blessings" are highlights, and the pair comes across as a more vital version of the Marc Olson-Victoria Williams or Chip Taylor-Carrie Rodriguez pairings. Before hooking up, Irion was a veteran of South Carolina's Dillon Fence in the '90s. Husky/honey-voiced Guthrie was a more recent musical convert -- though she's not without certain genetic musical power, as the daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody.

Opening the show is Kevn Kinney. The former front man of Atlanta rockers Drivin' n' Cryin' ("Fly Me Courageous") has spent recent years successfully recasting himself as a folkie/Americana artist, which comes to full fruition in his recent Sun Tangled Angel Revival. He mixes in stone country and psychedelic with America-in-crisis numbers "Everything's So Different Now" and "This Train Don't Stop at the Millworks Anymore." And though his unique whine-laden voice is still a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, it suits this material better than it did his rocker past.

 
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