NewTown's Harlan Road Album Review

by Laura Lou / 2757 days ago / Comments

Harlan Road, the new album from Progressive Bluegrass band, NewTown, was released earlier this year on Mountain Home Music’s label.  I have to be honest and admit that I was not too excited about reviewing a Bluegrass album, even if presented to me as “Progressive”.  I quickly forgot that genre-placement upon hearing the first track, All I Can Take, wondering why country radio is not playing these songs and why have I not been well-acquainted with NewTown before reviewing this album?

NewTown hails from Lexington, KY, which makes me ashamed even more to admit that I had not heard their music considering that Lexington is a mere 80 miles East of where I live.

The band is fronted by husband and wife team, Katie Penn and Jr. Williams, who although they have been compared to Brad Paisley and Alison Kraus, have a style and talent all their own.  It is fair to note that Barry Bales, long-time bass player for Kraus and Union Station, produced this album.

Harlan Road debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 10 Bluegrass Albums Chart and has held on in the Top 20 on the Roots Music Report Top 50 Bluegrass Album Chart. My personal opinion is that there are several tracks that should be climbing the Country Charts as well as Bluegrass.

NewTown describes the current project as, not your typical Bluegrass album. They have detoured from what is expected as traditional or typical Bluegrass, offering a different, yet positive variation of the evolution of the genre, while staying deep-rooted in what Bluegrass has always represented. Penn has used the terms Traditional Bluegrass with a Newgrass feel” and “Contemporary Bluegrasswhen asked where she would classify NewTown.

There are 11 tracks on the album and I have listened to each track on repeat for over a week now with no anticipation that I will change that anytime in the near future.  I picked a few of my personal favorites to review.

The second track on this album is titled, "Can’t Let Go."  This track is very familiar in the typical Bluegrass sound however; I also feel this song could seek placement as a Traditional Country cross-over. The lyrics start off with a strong female vocal lead that draws you in and hooks you when the full instrumental backing and harmonies begin. Penn is reminiscent of Trisha Yearwood in this track and yet distinctively herself.

The title track, "Harlan Road", with Jr. on lead vocals, has a very catchy chorus that gets stuck in your head, which is a great problem for a singer/songwriter to have. He has a great feel to his vocals, singing this track with such clear intent to not only tell the story but to make you feel it as well.

"Drifter's Blues", the 8th track on the album, has a strong Bluesy feel, giving the listeners a descriptive look into the heartbreak and soul-wrenching sadness of the song with the emotional performance Jr. delivers, taking you along with him on the journey through the song. Instrumentation is terrific on this track and well-produced for the feel and mood to stay consistent with the story.

The last track that I reviewed, is the 11th and last track on the album.  Admittedly, this one is my personal favorite. Come Back to Me is the only track on the album that the husband and wife team sing as a duet.  It reminded me of the soft and gentleness of Vince Gill with the strong female vocals of Alison Kraus. The delivery is on point and takes you on an emotional journey.  This song is soothing for the Bluegrass soul and will find a home in the country corners of the heart.

This is an album that you should absolutely add to your collection, regardless of your preferred genre. There is something here for anyone that is fan of real, true music. ~Laura Lou



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About Laura Lou

Laura Lou Journalist

Beginning about age 13, music always been my “safe place”, my “escape”, it became a part of who I am. My background includes being a photographer/journalist for newspapers, magazines and radio stations and more recently I have been an artist manager. What I continue to strive to learn is, what is important to the fans/readers? I find that the answer is always that they want to feel close to the artist they are supporting. The human contact that we all need is something that I want to deliver to anyone that happens to read something I write or see a photograph I shoot. It is important to me to provide that experience, because I am, after all, still always a “fan” and that giddy 13-year-old girl is simply amazed! I never imagined that my passion and love for music would lead me where I am today! I use the hashtag #iamtheluckiestgirliknow because I cannot believe how blessed I am! I’m excited to see “what happens next” and take you all along with me! This is going to be amazing…