The McEuen Sessions Keep the Circle, Truly, Unbroken
The McEuens at Red Rocks, 1982
In a way, the McEuen Session album – which includes both original and cover songs that range from rock to bluegrass to traditional – reflects the genres and generations on the Circle album, said John. Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta, where the trio recorded, also added to the historic mood; R.E.M., Gwen Stefani and Elton John are just some of the artists that have recorded there.
Of course, not everything surrounding sessions for the Circle or the McEuen Sessions were without care. Circle was recorded at a time of similar civil unrest in the United States, just as the McEuen’s recent release comes at another time of unrest. Those circumstances played a role in the songs that McEuen wanted to record on this collaboration with his sons.
“I was adamant that ‘The long hard road,’ had to be on there,” said McEuen of the song that tells the story of building a career in music. “I really wanted the brothers to sing it. They did it and there is a great response to it…”
That’s not to say that the songs are all in the style of the Dirt Band. Just as the elder McEuen – a multi-instrumentalist who taught Steve Martin to play banjo when they were younger – has played and continues to enjoy a variety of styles, so do his sons.
To ensure the process was truly collaborative, each of the trio chose three songs to record for the album. The other three songs and the three bonus tracks were a group decision.
“We picked out all the songs, had a week of sessions and then had it in the can,” said Jonathan. “We thought we’d better mix it right, get it out right, promote it right…
But 95% of the songs were done in one take. A real emotional response carried us through the whole process. That is what is rare about this. And it’s always good when family feels something like that on any level. It’s always good when a family can play together and record together and talk to people at the CD table. It’s a good feeling.”
Although the brothers played on and off through the years, the individual music paths they took allowed them to form a cohesive unit with their dad. Still, it took a while for them to find a comfort level from which to record.
“I think we wanted it to be right,” said Nathan. “In order to make that phone call to my dad and brother [and suggest recording] I had to first [chart] my own path in music. And I didn’t do that all my myself. Jonathan helped me on some projects and my dad played on a couple [of my projects]. But I needed those experiences, my own experiences, to really feel this was something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to ride on anyone’s coattails. I wanted it to be real…It was only after about two or three years of consistently living on the road, of only having a PO box in Southern California, that my hobby turned into a career. I just kept working on it, and working on it, and working on it until it had a real purpose.”
It was during a break after being on the road for more than two years that Nathan went to Atlanta to stay with his sister and regroup. A series of circumstances led him to Tree Sound Studios and ask his brother and father to check it out and consider recording with him there.
“Three months later, we had it all together,” said Nathan. “They went for it, fortunately, and it all felt great.”
That’s due in large part to the feelings all three share for the music they recorded as well as their familial bonds.
“There is a definite emotional response to that music,” said Jonathan. “That came from the first track we laid down, to the first photo….and all across the board. “
Watching the brothers open a recent show for the Dirt Band, it’s easy to see that the real purpose about which Nathan discussed is present. Although the two performed a selection of songs from the new album, it was the camaraderie they displayed on stage, joking with each other and thanking their father and Hanna for allowing them to open, that notably brought some of the most heartfelt responses from the audience.
That’s no accident or one time event, said Nathan, who said that when they play Dirt Band flavored music, it ignites a feeling of kinship between the brothers and their audiences.
“This type of music is closest to my heart,” said Nathan. “I have noticed, for me, that I like the acoustic guitar singer-songwriter approach. I was in Ireland and we passed the guitar around and everyone had a song to play; it was all beautiful and relevant. It starts to sound hippie….but you get through to so many people through melody….”
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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