Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out
Rural Rhythm Records
4 stars (out of 5)
By Donald Teplyske
Over the last two decades, the evolution of IIIrd Tyme Out has been gradual. Starting off with a bang as, for the time, the most revered vocal group within the bluegrass industry (seven consecutive Vocal Group of the Year nods from the IBMA beginning in 1994), the group has seen founding and long-term members retire and move onto other projects (and others return) all the while maintaining a consistent sound that has never grown tired-sounding.
Prime Tyme is a 14-track collection of straight-down-the-middle bluegrass. There are no pretentions within its 43 minutes, no ambitions of expanding the large tent of bluegrass. The band’s lineup hasn’t changed since the release of Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out two years ago: Moore (guitar), Steve Dilling (banjo), Wayne Benson (mandolin), Justen Haynes (fiddle), and Edgar Loudermilk (bass). Moore continues in the lead vocal position with Dilling and Loudermilk handling the majority of the vocal harmonies.
The selected material helps make the set a winner. The chart-topping “Pretty Little Girl from Galax” is just the starting point for an album with an abundance of memorable songs. While not terribly original, the lead track, Dave Carroll’s “Old Kentucky Farmers” contains the expected list of rural elements that bluegrass listeners continue to appreciate: from neighbourly assistance in times of need to “callused hands and blisters” and “cornbread on the woodstove,” Moore’s lead vocals and especially Haynes’ fiddle work take us to a time well in the past.
A gentle bluegrass treatment of Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Goodbye Old Missoula” (previously recorded by Jimmie Dale Gilmore) is a welcome touch. A pair of David Norris songs—the exceptional “Dusty” and the swinging “Moon Magic”—establish a firm foundation for the rest of the album. Renditions of “I’m Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar,” “Sugarfoot Rag,” and “Carroll County Blues” serve to connect to the traditional country roots of IIIrd Tyme Out’s sound. Additional highlights include a lively take of Bill Castle’s “Big Muddy” and Billy Boone Smith and Bill Gordh’s “Whippoorwill.”
Throughout the album, IIIrd Tyme Out’s distinctive combination of powerful five-piece instrumentation and vocal trios are well represented. Moore continues to be one of bluegrass music’s strongest and most nuanced lead singers; even setting aside his two most recent IBMA Male Vocalist of the Year designations, there can be little disagreement about the personal flavour he brings to each song.
Closing the album is the frustration-fueled “What’s The World Coming To.” This Ronnie Bowman cowrite (with Michael Garris) asks the questions many of us are considering including, “Times are hard for everyone from carpenters to teachers / Why’s the money rollin’ in for politicians and Wall-streeters?”
With exceptional instrumentation performances, great vocal presence, and strong material, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, with Prime Tyme, have again delivered a superior bluegrass album.