New Bluegrass: NewTown’s ‘Harlan Road’

NewTown — Harlan Road
Label: Mountain Home Music Company (available July 8)

If you think you know bluegrass music, give a listen to NewTown’s new album, Harlan Road. It is one of the best new bluegrass album out lately and demands attention from those who love the genre. On the eleven song collection, NewTown covers all the hoped-for territory (including some absolutely stunning, mutually-dependent instrumentals) while also expanding all expectations with some gorgeous contemporary songs that feel so fresh one might not even consider them bluegrass on first listen. Make no mistake though, they belong in the bluegrass classification… just somewhere on the edge, where things get interesting. Except for one track (the instrumental “Feast of the Gryphon”) the album was written by writers outside of the group. NewTown deserves praise, not only for the quality of their musicianship, but also for selecting songs that provide the lifeblood of the form—fresh material pushing the artistic frontier.

NewTown loves songs that tell a good story and the songs on Harlan Road are each a chapter in a musical novel of hard-scrabble life (that brings out the best in musical expression). Like a life-sustaining flame, Kati Penn’s lead vocals can either roar like a fire  on the move, or can flicker with the vulnerability of a candle in a breeze. As if that weren’t enough, the solid album is produced by none other than Barry Bales, the multi-Grammy Award winning musician/producer whose taste and integrity in the recording studio is unmatched. Jr. Williams’ vocals are equally strong, possessing the two required qualities of memorable bluegrass singing—loneliness and earnestness.

NewTown consists of: Kati Penn (fiddle), Jr. Williams (banjo), Travis Anderson (bass), Mitchell Cannon (mandolin) and Hayes Griffin (guitar). Founded in 2009, the Lexington, Kentucky-based group first gained national attention with the 2013 album, Time Machine, and the #1 Bluegrass Today single, “All I Was to You.”  The group has since continued to gain a strong following playing festivals throughout the U.S. Live-music-goers this summer are in for a treat, with these heartfelt songs just waiting to find an audience.

Essential Downloads: “All That I Can Take,” “The Crows and The Jakes,” “Come Back To Me.”

To preview or purchase this album on iTunes, click here.

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