Johnny Irion: Ex Tempore

Johnny Irion: Ex Tempore

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Album: Ex Tempore
Label: Route 8/RCAM

The vocal and stylistic similarities between Johnny Irion on Ex Tempore and Neil Young circa Harvest might be hard for some listeners to get over, but it would be a mistake to think of Irion's album as a slavish copy, or even an homage. It's a wholly original set of songs, recorded in an early-'70s country-rock style, emphasizing live, collaborative performance with subtle orchestral overlays. On the surface, at least, Ex Tempore may be better than Harvest, just for the way Irion seamlessly integrates Southern gospel and Beach Boys harmonies into his catchy, twisty songs of yearning. It's like a more evolved version of Young's long-tendril approach to roots music.

Granted, Irion isn't as direct a songwriter as Young, but he does put a personal stamp on Ex Tempore, which is full of songs about mistakes catching up to people and dreams slipping away. "Ex tempore" is a legal term, describing an immediate judgment, delivered "at the time." The title refers to the way the album was recorded, between stops on a tour with Irion's wife Sarah Lee Guthrie and her father Arlo. But Ex Tempore also captures the theme of the record, carried by songs like "1000 Miles An Hour," in which the music hovers in the air like a past not quite left behind.