Many new bands throw a recording project together, use it to reach promoters and hit the road to perform and sell copies. Kati Penn and NewTown took a different approach – touring and playing for three years, honing their craft and finding themselves as a band before releasing a record. That debut record, NewTown, suggests the decision was a great one.
“We wanted to make sure the CD was a good representation of who we are,” Kati told me this morning as she and the band headed to Knoxville for a noon performance on the WDVX Blue Plate Special. First, she laughed, they had to find out what kind of band they were.
While the musical partnership of fiddler Kati and banjo man Junior Williams would lift any band, it’s just one of the magical parts of NewTown. The best part, for me, is that the five-piece band includes four strong lead vocalists. Kati can break your heart and then mend it one song later, but Junior, mandolinist James Kee and bassist Terry Poirier bring energy and emotion and a variety of styles to the microphone, too. As a result, NewTown has delivered a project that is full of surprises and will get some attention in the emerging artist category in IBMA voting.
The CD is strong from start to finish, but promoters and fans can get a feel for the band’s broad range in just three songs. Kati is featured on Love the Way I Do, a Jon Weisberger/Jeremy Garrett song that is a perfect showcase for her voice. Then listen to the classic Pretty Polly. If Junior’s forceful delivery doesn’t have you moving in your seat, you might want to check your pulse. Finally, check Terry’s singing on the Mark Simos song, Angelita. The hint of an old-time edge in his voice is a perfect match for this song’s first generation feel.
The band’s members came into the project with no preconceptions about the kinds of songs they were looking for. “We just told the writers to send everything they had, and we listened to everything over and over,” she said.
In the end, Kati noted, “We really tried to do what we feel good about.” If NewTown’s self-titled album is the evidence, Kati, Junior, Terry, James and guitarist C.J. Cain must be feeling pretty good about themselves.