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Published: 2012/04/04
by Brian Robbins

The McEuen Sessions
For All The Good

Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings

Ah – a father and his sons making music. Pretty darn cool. Specifically, John McEuen (yep: Nitty-Gritty-Grammy-winning-anything-with-strings-playing – that John McEuen) with sons Nathan and Jonathan, who are serious tunesters themselves. It might’ve gone either way: growing up with a dad who’s spent the best part of the last 45 years or so on the road as a working musician could have either soured the McEuen boys or drawn them in to find their own musical paths. The latter prevailed; The McEuen Sessions is the proof.

Though each of the trio had the opportunity to select three songs to record for the album (with an additional three chosen by the group), there is no spotlight on any single player for any one tune. The three McEuens make for a deep bench of talent, and most cuts find all of them contributing multi-layered tracks of McEuen music.

For instance, there’s “Grand Design”, written by Nathan and Crosby Loggins. Nathan nails the role of the down-on-his-luck showman with his vocal, along with some appropriate sleeve-gartered piano, acoustic guitar, and soft-shoed percussion. But just as crucial to setting the mood is father John’s Dixieland-style banjo, sprinkles of mando, and gentle-but-there bass. And while brother Jonathan’s background vocals throughout the song are subtle, it’s his guitar break at the 1:26 mark that will grab your attention. He pulls off a one-take, clean-toned, string-popping Strat solo that eases in on tiptoes before breaking into a swirl of jazziness, gone with a doff of the top hat less than half a minute later. No one player owns the song: again, these were truly McEuen sessions – and this is McEuen music, a product of nature and nurture.

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows John’s history that there are some bluegrassy moments on The McEuen Sessions – and it’s a natural fit for Jonathan and Nathan, as well. “Hills of Sylmar” is the perfect mix of traditional stomp and modern-day lyrics that would feel right at home on a Yonder Mountain album, while Nathan’s self-penned “Banjormous” finds him weaving some excellent banjo with his dad. The traditional instrumentation is given a jammed-out twist on “Quicker at the Draw” (a way-cool finger-blisterer that tosses the lead around the circle at a feverish rate) and “Dinner!”, which is boiled down to one-minute-and-eighteen-seconds’-worth of acoustic sweetness.

Get out yer handkerchiefs: if the McEuens’ take on Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” doesn’t get you, then “Old Shep” will. (35-year-old Jonathan duets with his 11-year-old self thanks to a recording from the 80s while Nathan seals the deal with some spot-on Jordanaire-style background vocals.)

The trio takes on Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know” (with Mason himself listed as providing backing vox, drum programming, and “inspiration”), Jonathan’s vocal and lead guitar paying tribute while putting his own spin on a classic tune. And don’t leave the room until the disc actually stops – the bonus of the bonus cuts is “The Goodtime Suite”, over six minutes of simply John McEuen and his banjo. Both Nathan and Jonathan say that reminds them of when their father would play them to sleep at night as children. It’s a lovely way to end this family effort.

Comments

There are 5 comments associated with this post

Steve Omar Moran April 5, 2012, 08:12:57

The CD is great, but don’t miss the chance to see the trio live.
The McEuens were kind enough to take a chance on choosing our venue, “Live at Studio 201” to play their NYC debut of the CD. It was our first concert.
The CD’s songs were interspersed with tributes to Earl Scruggs, who had just passed away; Nitty Gritty classics and fantastic covers, including Prince’s Kiss and “O Sole Mio” with Dominick Chianese singing lead in Italian. Also, Martha Rebone and Jon Mark Fletcher came onstage to add to the festivities.
Besides the music John’s stories were a big part of the show. The audience learned that Fig Newtons could be stuffed with crushed caterpillars and that part of the success of “Mr.Bojangles” was due to playing a lunchroom show at an all girls Catholic middle school.
It was three hours on non-stop joy and one of the best shows I’ve seen in my 40 years in and out of the music business.

Steve Omar Moran April 5, 2012, 08:13:46

The CD is great, but don’t miss the chance to see the trio live.
The McEuens were kind enough to take a chance on choosing our venue, “Live at Studio 201” to play their NYC debut of the CD. It was our first concert.
The CD’s songs were interspersed with tributes to Earl Scruggs, who had just passed away; Nitty Gritty classics and fantastic covers, including Prince’s Kiss and “O Sole Mio” with Dominick Chianese singing lead in Italian. Also, Martha Rebone and Jon Mark Fletcher came onstage to add to the festivities.
Besides the music John’s stories were a big part of the show. The audience learned that Fig Newtons could be stuffed with crushed caterpillars and that part of the success of “Mr.Bojangles” was due to playing a lunchroom show at an all girls Catholic middle school.
It was three hours on non-stop joy and one of the best shows I’ve seen in my 40 years in and out of the music business.

Brian Greenle April 5, 2012, 15:37:27

Goosebumpingly Great. Glad I was led to this refreshing trio late in life, a whole new world of Music has opened up to my set of old progressive rock ears!! Still love the buzz of synth music, but have reservations about calling it music after tasting what the McEuen friends get up to!! I second what Steve Moran said…. SEE THEM LIVE!!!

Jim Geiman April 5, 2012, 20:36:50

Honestly this CD is great. I was overwhelmed by the love I was hearing in their voices. I could truly feel the honesty oozing from their fingers as they played. and Most importantly I was glad to take part in the fun they were having while making this music. This is not your standard fare, this is CD is 5 star enjoyment.

Paul Diaz April 9, 2012, 08:48:03

dont miss the May 10th show at Tree Sound Studios, they will perform on the very spot the album was recorded. This will be a unique opportunity to see them in an intimate setting with only 100 people. Not to mention the great home made food and best atmosphere in America.

Prasanna April 24, 2012, 03:14:36

Improvements are by definition good. Here is my item by item aesssemsnt:The site should not be planted and manicured to look like every other Disneyland type turist trap in the western US. I think that many of us have seed this particular cookie cutter used elsewhere. Placemaking These plans are really about place changing. Boaters, and baseball out, board turists in. Families watch dads, moms, and kids play ball there. We used to also play soccer, flag football, tennis, etc., and go out to eat afterwords downtown. I think it is a mistake to take all the community sports out of our main sports field. By the way, i neither play nor watch teem sports anymore. Steps at ramp: 1. There is a far superior vista at independence point, (There is also a lifeguard there). 2. We can test the ramp closure by closing it, but wait to take it out. 3. Perhaps a public dingy sailing club with rentals would serve the town and attract turists. A knowledgeable sailor should be consulted about the prevailing winds and the ease with witch novices may navigate a boat in the bay.Massive fountain: This is a hackneyed knee-jerk item that architects use when they are desperate to put in something. Dry and unwatched fountains are abundant in the west. The main water feature is the lake! Additionally, fountains freeze and crack, and require about 2000watts of power continuously to keep the extra-chlorinated water interesting. Idaho is not about mediterranean fountains; they do not make our place. Tennis: why didn’t we repave our old courts? Why put new ones in the wettest part of the park?Remove fences. Of course! that is cheap and allows soccer players, frisbee players, crosscountry skiers, and wild young children to play about. It is also very cheap!Massive concrete walkway? interesting to none but skateboarders and trick cyclists. Out-door theater: Actors prefer not to shout out love scenes while Sherman Ave traffic and bars sound off. Amplified live music would be heard for about a mile. Fortunately, cold Cd’A nights would limit such disasters to about 4 weekends per year. This is not Athens (Georgia, nor Greece). Plenty of theater goes on in Cd’A, and non of these groups seem interested in focusing on the few out-door venues that exist. Now baseball is something that is just lively enough that families and friends will watch on. Small town baseball just might be part of the placemaking that has been going on while our of state architects were not looking. Tubb’s hill: Hands off! (except to keep fire hazards down a bit).Underground parking: $20-$30,000 per spot. It is cheaper to pay people not to come. This is for the weekenders in the summer: the current lot is less than half full on a summer weekday (see google earth photos) This is where the big bucks come in. Why not put angle in parking on Front street (widen it) and thus activate the adjacent commercial properties. Lake side and other streets could also stand to sacrifice a lane for angle in parking. The effect would slow traffic a bi, which would actually improve pedestrian safety. Remember, when we say pay with Bonds, we mean tax money that could go to schools. Removal of fences, rebuilding the tennis courts, and planting a few Ponderosa pines, and designating a bocci-ball site this is cheap stuff. But in addition to taking up the parking lot, these are the essential changes that we need. A Dingy sailboat club (under 16 foot) would have to be run through the parks and recreation department and would collect fees and possible annual sponsors as the kids ball clubs used to. Let’s not confuse pictures of hansom people in exotic places for images of what could be happiness and prosperity in Cd’A. The actors in those photos are waiting for the photo-shoot to be over. And about master plans beautifully rendered by architects: The architects? (I know many), they are wondering what the heck to sell this small town. They are looking to us for answers.

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