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The Mark Newton Band
Hillbilly Hemingway

Review By Steven Stone
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  I suppose at first listen you'd call Mark Newton's music bluegrass, but it's not just bluegrass. Sure the bluegrass affects are slathered on pretty heavy, but the drum kit gives away the game – this is really honkytonk roots rock/pop masquerading as traditional bluegrass. Is that a bad thing? No, but to assume that Hillbilly Hemingway is merely another Rebel Records bluegrass offering would be a mistake, since it is far more.

Hillbilly Hemingway is Mark Newton's fifth solo release, and his third with the current band. Produced by the great singer/songwriter Carl Jackson, this album demonstrates how to make the songs themselves the stars. With material drawn for a wide array of writers including Mike Ward, Daniel Sayler, Julie Lee, Lawton Williams, Ronnie Gravley, Johnny Williams, Leslie Satcher, John Wheat, and Carl Jackson, Hillbilly Hemingway doesn't have only one kind of music – there's country AND western (sorry, old joke, but I couldn't resist.) Mark Newton admits, "We do things that have bluegrass bounce…but there's quite a bit more contemporary sound too."

The core band on Hillbilly Hemingway consists of Clay Hess on rhythm and lead guitar, Andy Ball on mandolin, John Wheat on banjo, and Beth Lawrence on bass. Additional musicians include Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs on dobros, and Tony Creasman on percussion and drums. Alecia Nugent and Carl Jackson add some extra backing vocals. Unlike many bluegrass albums where the touring band gets shunted to the side in favor of the studio pros, on Hillbilly Hemingway the main band handles most of the solos and each of the band members gets to sing lead vocals on at least one song. I was especially impressed by Beth Lawrence's lead on "Blessings" and Andy Ball's lead on "Fraulein."

Every song on this CD has as much finesse and polish as any big-budget Nashville hot-country release. The sound is clear, warm, and best of all, very natural. Recorded, mixed and mastered at the Station West in Nashville, TN, by Luke Wooten, Bart Busch, and John Caldwell, Hillbilly Hemingway epitomizes what modern acoustic music can sound like when recorded right.

Mark Newton calls Hillbilly Hemingway, "The best album I've ever made." I would be a fool not to agree with him.

 

 

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