"Hillbilly Hemingway" by The Mark Newton Band

The Mark Newton Band

Hillbilly Hemingway

Rebel Records

2.5 Stars (out of 5)

The IBMA 2001 Recorded Event of the Year award (for Follow Me Back to the Fold) and stints in Knoxville Grass and the Virginia Squires highlight Mark Newton’s bluegrass career. Hillbilly Hemingway is his first release since relocating to Nashville, where he could “learn and grow artistically while tapping into the pulse of the music business.” Uh oh.

Hillbilly Hemingway features well-executed, country-tinged bluegrass under the auspices of legendary singer, songwriter, and producer Carl Jackson. Between Newton, his underrated band – Andy Ball (mandolin), Clay Hess (guitar), Beth Lawrence (bass), and John Wheat (banjo) – and all-star guests – Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs (resophonic guitars), Alecia Nugent (vocals), Tony Creasman (percussion) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) – there’s no shortage of instrumental precision and vocal blend.

Still something doesn’t quite jibe. From the title Hank tribute to the juiced-up intro on Julie Lee’s “Stillhouse Road” and nostalgic numbers about small towns, dirt roads, first loves, and “Home Folks,” hook after hook transform the collection into a fishing expedition. Confirmation comes on the closer “Jesse and Me,” which contains the lines: “Our goal is a lyric on the lips of the world. Number one with a bullet will do.”

This album would stand tall on Music Row. However, it loses traction on the Lonesome Road.

by Tim Walsh