“Harlan Road” by NewTown

Harlan Road
Mountain Home Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

On their third album, NewTown is again led by Kati Penn Williams (vocals and fiddle) and husband Jr. Willams, a Newfound Road veteran who provides good Scruggs-style banjo playing and vocals. Kati—who says “the band sometimes veers a little to the left of down-home bluegrass” and describes the band as “progressive” and having a “newgrass” feel—has a beautiful, compelling voice that carries “Castaway” along with her husband’s rolling banjo, and thrills on the title number,  a good, uptempo love-with-problems song with Jr.’s banjo driving it along.

NewTown is rounded out by Mitchell Cannon on mandolin, Travis Anderson on upright bass, and guitarist Hayes Griffin, who studied bluegrass and jazz at Denison University and spent mearly four years touring with April Verch—close to one thousand days on the road.  And they all have string chops—just listen to their virtuosity on Griffin’s excellent instrumental “The Feast of the Gryphon.”

The band shows a liking for the songwriting of Tyler Childers, who composed the title song as well as “The Crows and the Jakes,” a very pretty tune with nice instrumental breaks woven around enigmatic lyrics. Another Childers song is “The Heart You’ve Been Tending,” a good bluegrass number in three-quarter time with a hard downbeat on the first note of every measure, though the lyrics aren’t in the bluegrass mainstream.

“Wildfire” and “Drifter Blues” are two more genre-bending crowd-pleasers, the latter with its emphasis on blues without the grass and featuring a break on the upright—something you don’t often hear. The CD wraps up with “Come Back To Me,” a very nice love song with an interesting melody penned by Jeremy Garrett (Infamous Stringdusters) and bluegrass bassist/composer Jon Weisberger.

All in all, quite a change from the sounds of Time Machinereviewed here in late 2013.

NewTown - Harlan Road