by Rick Moore
They’ve been around for the past seven years or so, but Bluegrass band NewTown, with some new members and a new producer (Union Station’s Barry Bales), is sounding tighter and better than ever on their new single, “Harlan Road.”
NewTown features two principal singers, Kati Penn (also an award-winning fiddle player) and her banjo-wielding husband Jr. Williams, who takes the lead on this song. Written by rising singer/songwriter Tyler Childers, “Harlan Road” is based on the age-old story of a guy who’s lonely and misses his main squeeze. Nothing new, right? But this is a well-written song that conjures strong images of tobacco fields, coal trains and passionate interludes, and Jr. gets the point across flawlessly with a delivery that’s straight out of his native Kentucky. The choice of this song, which is also the title track of the band’s upcoming album, was a wise one.
No wimpy major chord progressions or happy melodies here, and that’s a good thing. Instead, the song leans on minor chords and a catchy fiddle and banjo line to create a lonesome and urgent tone. Kati plays fiddle with a natural fluidity that brings to mind Mark O’Connor, and mandolinist Mitchell Cannon shows how less can really be more. Guitar player Hayes Griffin is just tasteful and original enough to stop short of inviting a Tony Rice comparison. And Jr. is no Del McCoury-type high tenor singer, at least not here, wisely sticking with a key that’s good for his upper bari range, ala Tyminski or Stapleton.
If this band is as hot live as they are on record, it’s going to be a good year for festival-goers. NewTown may be the sleeper band of the year in the genre.
For more, visit www.thenewtownband.com
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