By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


August 16, 2005

DreamWorks Records

Hanna-McEuen's debut CD is so good, it's disappointing. And that's because it might have been even better.

Jaime Hanna and Jonathan McEuen seemingly have it all:

- Bloodlines: They're first cousins, the sons of twin sisters who each married a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jeff Hanna and John McEuen.

- Talent: They can sing, play guitars and mandolin, write a solid song, and they ooze stage presence and personality. They've played with their dads, with the Dirt Band, with some of the biggest stars in country and bluegrass, and Hanna played guitar, sang backup and wrote songs for a few years for the Mavericks.

- Backing: Hanna and McEuen have a massive marketing push behind them, the kind baby bands with no pedigree would kill for.

- Creative control: They wrote or co-wrote all 12 songs and share two-thirds of the production credits with veteran Nashville hand James Stroud.

The result is a hook-filled and tuneful collection of songs that work their way into your head until you realize you quite involuntarily have come to know them.

They are being pushed as country and compared with the Everly Brothers -- every singing duo that shares genes must be compared with the Everlys -- and there is that special something in their harmonies. But from the twangy guitar intro and solid rock rhythm of opening track "Fool Around," they blast out of the speakers like an updated Foster and Lloyd, who hit gold with the marriage of Bill Lloyd's power pop and Radney Foster's hard country in the late '80s.

So what's wrong? Well, it's too perfect. There are no rough edges. The sound is so polished and dense, no solo truly stands out. Keyboards, harmonicas, pedal steel and banjo are all in the mix, sinking the Sir Douglas Quintet rhythm of "Tell Me" and the Tex-Mex organ of the terrific "Rock and a Heartache." "Wild Eyes of Love" features a fine twin-guitar solo, but it's far too short. The hooky, jangly "Something Like a Broken Heart" is a winner, but a tougher, less-complicated touch might have let more of the melancholy through.

This is a really fine record that could have been great. As it is, it's a smashing debut, and I regret having to keep saying "but." I suspect the best place to experience Hanna-McEuen right now is in concert, where a smaller band and tighter charts would display their own grit.