Over the years, Lexington, KY has served as home to a number of talented bluegrass musicians, perhaps most notably J.D. Crowe and, in the 1970s, the now-famous early incarnations of the New South that headlined at Lexington’s Red Slipper Lounge. One of the latest bands to come out of Lexington is NewTown, named after the road the Red Slipper Lounge was located on and headed up by talented husband-and-wife team Junior Williams and Kati Penn-Williams. On their latest release, Time Machine, NewTown follows in the footsteps of Crowe and other like-minded artists, showing a command of the traditional bluegrass style while adding in enough modern touches to make their songs fresh and original.
The ten tracks on Time Machine will likely be new to most bluegrass fans. Six were written by the band’s guitarist, C.J. Cain, who proves himself to be a skilled songwriter, able to translate vivid images and strong storylines into verses and choruses. Thin Red Line is based on Cain’s grandfather’s time in World War II. Sung by Williams, it shares the tale of a soldier who finds himself fighting a harsh, unfamiliar war in the Pacific Theater. Penn-Williams sings another of Cain’s compositions, an excellent, melancholy number with a Celtic flair called The Widow’s Ghost. Her smooth fiddling provides a fine opening to the song’s story of a Confederate widow who takes up a gun after her husband and son are killed.
All My Tears is a well-done Gospel song. Although it has a happy message – the singer stating that after she dies, “it don’t me matter where they bury me, I’ll be home and I’ll be free” – the tune is stark and haunting. Like most of the songs here, it is anchored by the fiddle and banjo, which blend well throughout the album.
Rounder is a driving number, written by Cain and sung hard by Williams. Its title sums up the song’s narrator, who says he’s “down for any game.” There’s also a fiery mandolin solo from Clint Hurd that’s worth a second listen. Another hard-driving piece is All I Was to You, which very well may be an answer to the previous song. It features an angry woman who has realizes how little she meant to the one who said he loved her, and has decided to move on.
One of the album’s most enjoyable songs is a cover of master songwriter Guy Clark’s Dublin Blues. While Clark’s version of the song is gritty and full of pain, here it’s wistful, and certainly more upbeat. Penn-Williams does a fine job with the vocals, giving them a nice mixture of hope and regret. The album also closes on a high note with the vivid A Train Robbery, again featuring the strong, country-style lead vocals of Williams. This song takes listeners to the scene of a carefully executed train robbery by the James gang. One minor irritation is the “scratchy record” sound of the song’s opening, which has been a bit overdone in recent years.
With Time Machine, NewTown proves that it is certainly a force to be reckoned with. The songs are well-written and nicely varied, and the vocals (especially Williams’ hard-hitting lead) are nicely done throughout. The musicians are also in fine form, with Williams (banjo), Penn-Williams (fiddle), Cain (guitar), Hurd (mandolin), and Terry Poirier (bass) each demonstrating their considerable talents. Bluegrass fans who are looking for something new, yet still familiar, should definitely check out this album.
For more information on NewTown, visit their website at www.thenewtownband.com. Their new album is out now from Pisgah Ridge Records and can be purchased from a variety of online music retailers.