The real treat starts the first time you hear Hanna-McEuen. While their vocals are equally effective no matter who is singing lead, their voices transcend melody lines and harmonies with a blend that is unmistakably linked to acts like the Everly Brothers, whose overall sound can only be explained by shared bloodlines.
The unique nature of this duo is further proven by their musicianship. Both are accomplished guitarists whose work is featured throughout their debut album. Each brings to the table his own set of musical experiences and influences.
Jonathan McEuen first got his familyís attention when they heard him singing along to a song on the radio at the age of two. By the time he was seven, he was performing onstage at his Dadís annual Rocky Mountain Opry show at the famous Colorado venue, Red Rocks. He was soon acting in plays which led to him landing the lead role in a high school production of The King and I, although he was still attending elementary school. By the age of twelve he was under contract with Disney to appear in The Mickey Mouse Club during the Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera era. ìThat fell through because I couldnít tap dance,î McEuen says.
But he sure could play guitar, as evidenced by countless shows with his dad, which included bluegrass festivals and playing with the likes of Sam Bush and Vassar Clements. At the same time, McEuen was front man for a series of bands.
ìI was always allowed to be the ëelectrical guyí in bluegrass, and I always had an electric guitar with me, even when we opened for Bill Monroe. Bill would always ask, ëWhose guitar is that back there?í But that never discouraged me,î recalls McEuen. ìIt just made me want to learn more about playing acoustic, finger picking and flat picking.î
For Hanna, the path to guitar playing was a bit less direct. His earliest experiences were playing drums, but that all changed for him when he saw Steve Vai playing guitar in the movie Crossroads. ìI was hooked. By the time I was fourteen I was obsessed with the guitar,î Hanna says.
After high school Hanna relocated to Nashville. ìI was with my dad listening to Dwight Yoakam records when I heard Pete Anderson’s distinctive guitar sound. I was intrigued with his playing and before I knew it, Dwightís songs started sticking in my head.î
This led to a real interest in songwriting. It was around this time that Hanna met Raul Malo, lead singer of the Mavericks, who were just about to break through in country music. ìHe played me the video for ìWhat A Crying Shame,î and I was completely blown away. Eventually I played Raul one of my songs and we wound up writing together.î Among other things, this led to Hannaís first publishing deal. ìOne night Raul asked me to sit in with him for a couple of songs at the Bluebird CafÈ, and a week later The Mavericks hired me as their harmony, rhythm guitar and percussion guy.î
While Hanna and McEuen were both out pursuing their individual musical paths, they would get together as often as they could make those paths cross. ìEvery chance we had, we would play together,î Hanna says. ìWe played Deadwood, did little summer tours, and recorded in Nashville. Even if we hadnít seen each other for a year, weíd pick right up like no time had passed.î
Over the years McEuen started playing his cousinís songs and putting his own unique imprint on them. ìIíd always ask Jaime if he had any songs I could cut,î McEuen says. ìHe writes great stuff. Heís my favorite writer.î
Late in 2001, the cousins each received a call from their dads. The 30th anniversary of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bandís release of Will The Circle Be Unbroken was to be marked by a third album in the series, Circle III. Their idea was to bring Jaime and Jonathan in to record ìLowlandsî for the album.
ìI donít think anyone in the band thought it would be anything more than a special moment,î says Hanna. ìKind of an ëawwí moment for the dads,î McEuen agrees, adding, ìI guess they thought it would be cool to get the boys in and see what happened.î
Well, a lot happened. A video was shot for ìLowlands,î which led to appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Grand Ole Opry. Hanna-McEuenís version of ìLowlandsî had its own magic and wheels began to turn, both within Hanna-McEuen and from outside.
As record label interest grew, Hanna and McEuen realized they already had the core of an album. ìThe songs have been written over the past several years, so theyíve evolved,î Hanna says. ìJonathan will phrase a line differently than I did, then weíll find a happy medium. Itís the same with our guitar playing, we take the parts we each hear and find a way to lock them together.”
By combining songs Hanna had written, and both had performed, with songs McEuen had written and played, they were well on their way. Their material covers a wide range of styles, but one common thread runs throughout them.
Thereís an undeniable, identifiable chemistry that the two cousins bring with them, somewhere between brothers and best friends. ìIíve been more in tune with Jaime over the last ten years than anybody, but until now weíve never really gotten to work together professionally, so itís all new and fresh,î McEuen reflects. ìItís like a brand new experience, only you know exactly what it is right away.î
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