Jonathan McEuen, "Through the Sun Gate" (Rose Lane)
Front and center for a change, Jonathan McEuen immediately plays to his strength on "Through the Sun Gate." ''Sunshine ... sun shining in my eyes," he sings to kick things off, and his sunny tenor gives the album its distinctive stamp.
McEuen made a terrific record with cousin Jamie Hanna in 2005 (each is the son of a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member), and has enjoyed a successful career in supporting roles. While solo forays have been rare, the Southern Californian excels here performing music reminiscent of the early Eagles, Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers, thanks to a voice that combines pop polish with country character.
McEuen co-wrote two of the 11 tunes but mostly chooses covers, and the variety of the material gives the coastal country genre a fresh twist. "Fools Gold" has roots in Western swing, and "Nazareth, PA" gets bluesy, while the closing "Last Call" is hat-act honky-tonk. And McEuen overdubs harmonies as tight as the best bluegrass.
The pace is snappy, with several tunes clocking in at less than three minutes, and the biggest quibble would be that the album gives McEuen's excellent guitar work short shrift. Pedal steel, organ, piano and fiddle also play supporting roles, but the arrangements are built around McEuen's singing. No complaints there.