august 2009

Rural Rhythm

Now in its 18th year and possessor of some 50 industry awards (including seven consecutive IBMA Vocal Group of the Year honors), Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out are not letting time, if you will, catch up to them. Why title an album with only the group name if the long player isn’t meant as a statement of purpose, a declaration of identity, a signal of renewed commitment? The band’s trademark elements are in abundance here, from the solid craftsmanship and inspired artistry of Justen Haynes on fiddle, Wayne Benson on mandolin, Steve Dilling on banjo and Edgar Loudermilk keeping it rooted with his sturdy bass. Of course it’s Russell Moore’s personable tenor that is the voice of the band, and this new effort shows him off to great advantage. That’s true mostly because the songs are so on the mark—a tasty, memorable collection of musings about people trapped in bad situations and yearning to get out, of love and reconciliation, of family and country and, in the album’s lead song, the hard driving “Hard Rock Mountain Prison (‘Till I Die),” of a convict (identified as “a wayward son who never will come home”) who knows his only release will be death—a song that contains almost all the themes explored in the next 11 songs. That prison song is followed immediately by “Me and Dad,” a poignant reminiscence that could well be the prequel to the first tune, in which Moore recounts a childhood full of a father’s love and a son’s gratitude for same—the depth of feeling the fellows have for this subject is told in the close, plaintive harmonies of the “me and Dad” chorus. Similarly, in Moore’s self-penned drama, “Little John, I Am,” a son, his mother having passed away, leaving him to be raised by his sharecropper father, enumerates the values and discipline dad taught and which he is now passing on to his own offspring. On this odyssey, lovers are separated by forces greater than feelings can surmount, but the passion endures, hopelessly, as it turns out—the sprightly, banjo-driven shuffle, “Caroline’s Arm” (wherein the gal in question is inexorably drawn away from her man’s arms to the comfort of the Carolina mountains), and in Becky Buller’s intense, Irish-flavored ballad, “My Angeline,” Moore’s dramatic vocal reading and Haynes’s intense fiddle support provide the sea chantey tinge for a tale of a couple separated by the man’s love of ocean-faring ways, which culminates, oddly, in an ebullient, toe-tapping dialogue between Haynes’s fiddle and Dilling’s banjo. Sometimes, though, folks need to go away to learn the Dorothy lesson, i.e., whenever they go searching for their heart’s content, they need look no farther than their own back yard; hence, a beautiful, subdued version of Tim Stafford’s “The Last Greyhound,” keyed by a cascading roll of mandolin notes from Benson before Moore tenderly recounts how his woman of 18 years hopped a bus out of town, a “small town girl” looking for something she eventually realizes was “right here all the time,” a sentiment Haynes enhances with a restrained, keening fiddle cry. On the other hand, when love dies, in “I’m Leaving Home,” there’s no recourse but to run away from the bad memories left in its aftermath, in a song propelled by the group’s soaring ensemble harmonies and Haynes’s pointed fiddle punctuations. Thus the meat of a fine album, but there’s more—a bit of topicality in the Moore co-write, “Prayer for Peace,” a thoughtful, measured call for spiritual renewal in the land, and a frisky, bluegrass treatment of the Marty Robbins classic, “Knee Deep In the Blues” (maybe a Marty revival is underway, what with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver covering a more obscure Robbins tune, “Call Me Up and I’ll Come Callin’ On You,” on their new Lonely Street album—one more such cover and it’s a trend!), and a closing bluegrass gospel gem in the close-harmonized rendition of Isaiah G. Martin’s beloved classic, “The Eastern Gate.” Solid work all around by the IIIrd Tymers, whose energy and commitment make it feel like the first time. — David McGee 

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024