NewTown released another album in October 2018 under the label of Crossroads Records. Contrary to its title, Old World had both contemporary and current sound which is what NewTown is well-known for. One of their singles, Naomi Wise, is a new song from Donna Hughes, an Americana country bluegrass singer. Jr and Kati Penn sang in duet, gave a bluegrass sound to the old ballad song which tells the story of a young girl who was killed at the hands of an undeserving lover.
Hughes, in an interview, described the band’s new take to her song, “It was more than exciting to learn that NewTown would be recording this song!” Starting as folklore, the tale of Naomi Wise was turned into a ballad song performed by many artists such as Bob Dylan, Shirley Collins, and Judith Henske. The story revolves around an American orphan teenage girl and her lover Jonathan Lewis. Lyrics to the original version of the song were written shortly after the murder itself; wherein it shared the story of Naomi who was murdered by her lover and her body was disposed of in a river. Around the same time, their new album has been released, the band announced the addition of Jared Hensley on guitar in their team.
Everything was going well with the band – recording their songs, shooting the music videos, live shows – until Jr Williams had to go for a medical break from their busy schedule. Williams dismissed the exhaustion he was feeling in weeks as just something to do with his age and the band’s busy schedule. Little did he know that it was more life-threatening than he thought it was. In an interview, he shared that his heart rate had dropped to a dangerously low level, “Kati and I were out driving around one day and I started having a strange feeling in my chest.” When the feeling around Williams’ chest didn’t go away, he decided to go straight to the emergency.
By the time they reached the hospital, his heart rate was in the low 40s so he needed to be admitted immediately and done some testing. Turned out that Williams had Bradycardia – a serious heart problem characterized by slower than normal heart rate caused by heart doesn’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the body – and the only fix recommended by his doctor was a pacemaker. “My cardiologist, Dr. Craig McCotter here at Baptist Health in Lexington, said it would only get worse and could lead to a heart attack or stroke.” He felt grateful that his heart issue was addressed soon considering his family medical history. Williams made a speedy recovery.
In 2019, NewTown received several nominations in International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA). IBMA is recognized as one of the most prestigious music awards honoring musicians in the bluegrass industry and winners are determined by IBMA members through voting.
NewTown and its band members received the following nominations:
Album of the year – Old World
Kati Penn – Female Vocalist of the Year /Fiddle Player of the Year
Entertainers of the Year
Vocal group of the year
Instrumental group of the year
Jr Williams – Males Vocalist of the Year / Banjo Player of the Year
Mitchell Cannon – Mandolin player of the Year
Travis Anderson – Bass player of the Year
Jared Hensley – Guitar player of the Year
NewTown was also one of the showcase artists at 50th Appalachian last year which brings about ten thousand people at Coney Island during its three-day event. They are currently signed up with Mountain Fever Records and there are plans to get the group into the studio soon, with hopes for some new music to be released early in 2020.
Currently, the band members are:
Kati Penn – Fiddle
Jr Williams – Banjo
Travis Anderson – Bass
Jared Hensley – Guitar
Mitchell Cannon – Mandolin