NEWTON, HARLAN ROAD
There have been changes for NewTown since their 2014 debut. Three band members have departed, including guitarist C.J. Cain. New to the band are guitarist Hayes Griffin, mandolinist Mitchell Cannon, and bassist Travis Anderson. The chief source of material has also shifted to Tyler Childers, a non-bandmember. He wrote four, three of them among the best tracks here. Cain contributes two songs. One song each from other writers, among them an instrumental original from Griffin, fill out the balance.
In the opening five tracks, this album has a stellar run of songs, powerful and full of melodic and lyric interest. They represent everything contemporary bluegrass can and should be. “All That I Can Take,” sung by fiddler Kati Penn, is a fast, light tune of short phrases broken here and there by nicely held notes. Penn then lets loose on “Can’t Let Go,” a rocker made prominent by Lucinda Williams. NewTown hits this just right, and it’s the high point of the five-song run. Next up is the first of three Tyler Childers songs, the medium fast “Harland Road,” sung forcefully and with great character-acting by Penn’s husband, banjoist Jr. Williams. Then it’s back to Penn for Childers’ Cajun-tinted, quick 3/4 time “The Heart You’ve Been Tending,” arguably a close second for best track. Williams rounds out the run with a gritty performance of Childers’ look at “Hard Times” in the coalfields.
I thought the energy and interest dropped off a bit after that. The material wasn’t as good as the first five. The last song, a slow, weeper from Jon Weisberger and Jeremy Garrett and sung by Williams, came the closest. Those first five, however, make it all worthwhile. (Crossroads Distribution, P.O. Box 829, Arden, NC 28704, www.mountainhomemusiccompany.com.)BW