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Jonathan McEuen & Phil Salazar

A Tribute To Jerry Garcia – 2000 (Chrome)

Reviewed by Ken Burke

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CDs by Jonathan McEuen & Phil Salazar

This predominantly acoustic tribute embraces the eclectic nature of the Grateful Dead founder while focusing on the jazzy side of bluegrass music. Jonathan McEuen (son of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band1s John McEuen, a guest here), is a multi-instrumental threat, playing guitar, piano, and mandolin with amazing dexterity. His partner, Phil Salazar, is one of the finest fiddle players on the West Coast. Both have made their bones with the String Wizards and other respected roots music aggregations.

Aided by some potent studio talent, the duo transforms tunes largely associated with Garcia into some fine barn-dance rambles ("Pig In A Pen," "Tennessee Jed," "Casey Jones," "The Wheel") and modern bluegrass ("Deal," "Shady Grove,") with a Celtic feel. A Bo Diddley-beat is employed for Daphne Jones1s excellent gospel-drenched vocal turn ("Don1t Let Go"), and the elder McEuen demonstrates some sparkling overdrive banjo work ("Dead Heat").

The addition of a sax ("Eyes Of The World") and some ethereal background vocals ("Franklin1s Tower") makes some tracks sound like dentist-office New Age muzak. However, the execution on this disc is remarkable. Instrumental solos are traded with dazzling precision, and the layered moods achieved are consistently upbeat. Were he alive, Garcia himself would1ve blessed this one with a smile.