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Newtown

Time Machine – 2013 (Pisgah)

Reviewed by Larry Stephens

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CDs by Newtown

Newtown advertises itself as "five artists demonstrating a vast array of musical styling." That can evoke a mental question mark when pairing a band's product with the bluegrass genre. Without getting into the "what is ..." discussion, this is music that bluegrass fans should like unless they are hardcore Jimmy Martin fans. It features what some say is a must – a driving banjo, here played by Jr. Williams (NewFound Road), the husband of the band's founder.

The songs are not Monroe-brand traditional; the lyrics have a different feel and flow, but they have bluegrass appeal. Bluegrass fans tend to be supportive of military veterans and the Thin Red Line will strike a chord with them. It's the story of a soldier who lands at Bougainville, fighting the Japanese in the jungles there. "A vision lasts forever seen through a rifle's eye" is a line that's hard to forget.

Founder and fiddler Kati Penn-Williams (New Coon Creek Girls) is the heart of the CD. She shows off her vocal talents on Guy Clark's Dublin Blues and The Widow's Ghost, a song accented by its minor chords, a story of a woman suffering from loss, a hard life from the deaths of her husband and son at the hand of the Union army. She picks up her own rifle to fight the damned Yankees and dies from their bullets. This is music that is always a bluegrass favorite. This and five others, were composed by band guitarist C. J. Cain. He shows a good hand at the guitar but there are a lot of good guitarists in bluegrass. He will likely be best remembered for his deft songwriting touch. Other Cain numbers include Elmer T, an instrumental that showcases the band's musician skills and Rounder, a rollicking number sung by Jr. Williams who knows how to sing a bluegrass song.

Mandolinist Clint Hurd takes a good break on Rounder. Balsam Range's Tim Surrett guests on the resophonic guitar. Bass player Terry Poirier chimes in singing Floating Bridge, a blues number composed by Sleepy John Estes. This translates well to bluegrass, and the harmonies toward the end of the number add a special touch.

Whether it's an extended play number like A Train Robbery (from the 1999 release of "The Legend of Jesse James") or a modern 'grass number like All I Was To You, this is a band that makes good bluegrass.