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Jonathan McEuen

Through the Sun Gate – 2018 (Rose Lane)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Jonathan McEuen

Undoubtedly, you've heard the surname McEuen before. Jonathan McEuen has spent his life surrounded by music as the son of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founder John McEuen. Jonathan began performing at age 12, performed with his first cousin, Jamie Hanna, also of NGDB lineage, and formed Hanna-McEuen, which released two albums. McEuen has since gone solo with "Through the Sun Gate" his fifth one.

This is a California album, not a Nashville one, although those connections are irrevocably embedded in McEuen's approach. Here he takes total control of production and the writing, although many of the tunes pay tribute to his West Coast mentors and artists that have inspired him. Now living in Ventura, Cal., McEuen found long sought independence from the shadow of his dad and Nashville's bright lights.

These 11 songs pay tribute to the unsung heroes of Coastal Country with music ranging from rock to Bakersfield sounding and yes, Nashville/bluegrass tinged tunes. McEuen does the vocals and plays guitars and keys accompanied by his long-standing cohort Phil Salazar on fiddle, Peter Adams on keys, Bucket Baker or Jim Christie on drums, Scott Martin on pedal steel, Kevin McCormick or Cliff Hugo on bass and Ron Jaffe on B-3.

The album begins with Dennis Wilson's bright "Sunshine," churns into driving rock mode for "Roadhouse" to rocked-up bluegrass in "Ventucky." McEuen pays tribute to former producer, Dave Mason on Mason's "Fool's Gold" and "Every Woman." "Don't Make Me Suffer' is a straight country tear jerker. "Bucket List" is a fiddle-driven McEuen co-write while "Bakersfield" speaks for itself. "Nazareth, PA" is a blues-infused tune written by former collaborator Robben Ford. "Faktory" brings back guitar-driven rock. The fitting closer, "Last Call" has the vintage honky tonk sound.

McEuen has a versatile, mostly deep voice that's suited perfectly to this mix of mainly country and country-rock. He's renewed and invigorated, and it shows.