The cowritten "Cease Fire," sort of a train song and sort of not, rocks out nicely, and showcases a mischievous break in Guthrie's wispy voice. At the center of the album is a previously unrecorded Pete Seeger song about Martin Luther King, and Irion's scathing protest song from which the disk takes its name.
The production on Exploration sometimes overpowers what could have been a sparer, but more personal, more riveting record. Too often, unnecessary drum fills and swelling organs clutter up the space around the songs and dilute the pleasure of hearing Guthrie and Irion's eerily matched voices in close harmony. But Guthrie's own "Mornin's Over" doesn't play this card. It's a tiny little two-minute song, mysterious and plaintive and just right. The final cut, "Gotta Prove," busts out; it finds its banjo-fueled groove and rides it over the mountains.
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion are at the Ark on Monday, April 18.
[Originally published in April, 2005.]