If Hillbilly Hemingway sounds like an odd name for a bluegrass album, that's probably because it is a bit unusual. But given a bit of thought, if one might make the argument that country songwriters like Hank Williams were forced to write in an economical style for a three-minute format, then perhaps the Mark Newton Band is onto something. The band, vocalist Mark Newton, mandolinist Andy Ball, banjoist John Wheat, bassist Beth Lawrence, and guitarist Clay Hess, is augmented by fiddler Stuart Duncan, Dobro players Rob Ickes and Randy Kohrs, and producer Carl Jackson. The band plays extremely well together as a unit and the dozen songs have been carefully chosen. Newton's country-flavored lead is backed up by precision harmony, though these vocals work best, and are most distinctive, in the instances where a female tenor is placed in the mix. Although Jackson has stuck to an unobtrusive production, the music remains fairly smooth, fitting snuggly into the contemporary bluegrass category. This lack of rough edges is abated somewhat by songs like "Are You Lonesome Tonight," featuring Hess' rougher, more tradition-based vocals, and the free-for-all instrumental "Downforce." Hillbilly Hemingway is a likable, radio-friendly album that will please Newton's fans.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.