Artist: John McEuen
Album: Made in Brooklyn
Label: Chesky Records
Release Date: 09/30/2016
Multi-instrumentalist John McEuen has participated in some of the most iconic music of the 20th century, and he continues his path well into the 21st century with Made in Brooklyn. The album seamlessly transitions from McEuen’s own strong storytelling to Warren Zevon to Boudleaux Bryant to Johnny Cash to Jerry Jeff Walker and back ‘round to McEuen, taking the listener on a journey which may have been logged in Brooklyn, but which really takes us through the heart of American music.
Appropriately recorded in a historic church in one of the oldest and most culturally-diverse counties in the U.S., Made in Brooklyn boasts tracks from such diverse genres as R&B and rock, but transforms them all. Willie Wayne’s R&B “Travellin’ Mood” gets an upbeat jug band/bluesy treatment, complete with pennywhistle from David Amram, and Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” effectively morphs into a banjo-driven foot-stomper. Boudleaux Bryant’s songs made the Everly Brothers’ career, but a hidden gem, “My Favorite Dream,” gets two tracks here, one a delicate instrumental and the other a vocal performance that could have been lifted from an Eddie Cantor vinyl. A personal favorite, the instrumental opener, “Brooklyn Crossing,” pairs fiddle and gypsy guitar. McEuen slows both the tempo and the mood of Jerry Jeff Walker’s classic “Mr. Bojangles” down a bit, to great effect, while the gospel “I Rose Up” inspires us to rise up and dance.
As often occurs in McEuen’s live performances, a few tunes have commentary, including his own “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” a fiddle tune and story dedicated to Vassar Clements, the fiddler’s fiddler, a mirror (of sorts) of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” with a generous dose of banjo.
McEuen didn’t make this exciting album alone. Enlisting pals old and new, he tapped legendary musicians David Amram (Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Willie Nelson, Charles Mingus, Levon Helm, Pete Seeger, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Aaron Copland) and David Bromberg (Jerry Jeff Walker/Willie Nelson/Jorma Kaukonen/Jerry Garcia/Bob Dylan), incredible players like Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (“Ashokan Farewell”) and Andy Goessling (Railroad Earth & Warren Haynes/Phil Lesh/Bob Weir), legacy performers like John Carter Cash, newer voices like John Cowan (New Grass Revival’s lead vocalist) and even a crossover performer, (Oscar-, Emmy- and Grammy-winner) Steve Martin. In doing so, McEuen created an impressively cohesive whole.
There’s a good reason so many legends want to work with John McEuen. Whether on banjo, fiddle, guitar, pen in hand or in the studio, McEuen’s prodigious skills confirm that he’s a man for all good music, no matter where it’s made– Brooklyn or anywhere else.