NewTown- Harlan Road review

It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)

With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.

Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.


NewTown Harlan Road Mountain Home Music Company

Three years ago, NewTown released their first label album having previously knocked out an independent project. That Pisgah release was notable for a decent cover of “Dublin Blues,” not an easy song to ‘grassify, and the songs of bandmember C.J. Cain, particularly the pairing of “Thin Red Line” and “The Widow’s Ghost.” It was a fine album in of itself one showing plenty of promise for the future.

As tends to happen in bluegrass and for a variety of reasons I’m sure, the only returnees from Time Machine are the fronting one-two singing punch of spouses Kati Penn (fiddle) and Jr. Williams (banjo.) New this time are guitarist Hayes Griffon, bass player Travis Anderson, and mandolinist Mitchell Cannon with Barry Bales producing. The chief songwriter on Harlan Road is Tyler Childers (a singer-songwriter from Kentucky you really should listen to if you haven’t) with four credits while Cain also contributes a pair.

A strength of the group is the diversity having two capable lead vocalists, and NewTown takes full advantage of this, allowing Penn and Williams to balance off each other throughout the recording. A contemporary-sounding bluegrass band, NewTown doesn’t wander too far from the core of the music—rural events, hard-living, simple pleasures. The instrumental “The Feast of the Gryphon” is expansive enough for the members to work together while showcasing themselves, including the songwriter Griffon. (Did you catch that? Nicely done, Hayes.) Key cuts: “Can’t Let Go,” “Harlan Road,” “The Crows and the Jakes,” and “Drifter Blues.”

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