december 2011

russell moore
Wayne Benson (front and center, mandolin); Russell Moore (guitar); (back row, from left) Steve Dilling, Justen Haynes, Edgar Loudermil: Twenty years on, and just getting started.

Twenty Years And Counting

Timely and topical, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out’s anniversary album speaks to the moment

By David McGee

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out
Rural Rhythm (Released October 2011)

The year of our Lord 2011 marked the 20th anniversary of the much-awarded Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out (Moore is the only remaining original member). To mark the occasion the band released its 16th album, aptly titled Prime Tyme, and made it one of the finest in its catalogue, indeed if not the finest of its many laudable long players. Not only does it have a firm sense of place--many of the songs mention a specific location, not merely “out in the country” or some such generalization, and those settings are all crucial to each song’s storyline--it has an equally compelling sense of the quintet’s own time in drawing on songs by writers as diverse as Willis Alan Ramsey, Mark Brinkman, the Delmore Brothers, Hank Garland, Ronnie Bowman, Bill Castle, David Norris and others who combined represent a sweep of roots music that has informed this group’s style and sensibilities. Add to this the actual execution of the music, with Moore’s vocals as strong and full of conviction as ever to go along with his solid guitar playing, as Steve Dilling (banjo, who made his initial appearance with the group on record on 1996’s Letter to Home), Wayne Benson (mandolin, on board since 1993), Justen Haynes (fiddle) and Edgar Loudermilk (upright bass, and taking the lead vocal on one of the album’s most powerful tunes, “Hooverville”) get a powerful instrumental conversation going on in enhancing the emotional impact of Moore’s singing.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, ‘Pretty Little Girl from Galax,’ a live version of the song featured on the band’s 20th anniversary album, Prime Tyme. This performance was filmed at the CD release concert in Jonesborough, TN, on October 22, 2011. Posted at YouTube by KWEP.

Dave Carroll’s “Old Kentucky Farmers” begins the album on an easygoing, uptempo note, with Dilling’s rolling banjo lines leading the way, as Moore sings plaintively of remembering the dear hearts, gentle people and supportive ways of the folks back home, where “everybody knew their neighbors and would lend a helping hand” when tough times visited their friends. The Kentucky bluegrass that holds such fond memories for the narrator in Carroll’s song is a far cry from the big sky country of Montana, where the protagonist in Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Goodbye Old Missoula” prepares to move onto in trying to heal his broken heart. Backing Moore’s bluesy cry, Haynes crafts a tear-stained fiddle moan over Benson’s steady mandolin chop in giving the tune a feel at once despairing of lost love in the town where “they throwed the sun away” and hopeful of a new start over in “the Bozeman round.” From that bittersweet tale, though, the mood turns immediately sunnier in Milan Miller’s “Pretty Little Girl In Galax,” a banjo- and fiddle-driven (needless to say, fiddler Haynes demonstrates the distinctive Galax fiddling style in his soloing) toe-tapper with a decided mountain feel, concerning a fellow’s joyful contemplation of returning from Carolina to the love of his life in Galax, Virginia, with Moore and Dilling joining voices on scintillating close harmony in the high-spirited choruses preceding Haynes’s exuberant fiddle solos. Later in the album sequence, Bill Castle’s throbbing “Big Muddy” may have a nice beat to it, but its lyrics contain chilling, pointed descriptions of the devastation left behind when the Mississippi overflowed its banks, especially in the closing verse in which nothing is resolved, no rosy future foretold as the populace digs out, only to face the certainty that the Big Muddy “took my cotton/all the way to New Orleans.” Moore sings it as people along the Mississippi’s route must feel it, with a kind of numbness at the scale of the tragedy, a deadening of the spirit chillingly expressed in Dillings's bleak banjo solos.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, ‘If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again,’ a live version of the song included on the band’s 20th anniversary album, Prime Tyme. Filmed May 7, 2011, at the Boxcar Pinion Bluegrass Festival in Chattanooga, TN, and posted at YouTube by rockinjawjaredhead.

If the word of the year in 2011 was “Occupy,” in 1932 it was “Hooverville,” after the shanty towns built near Washington, D.C. and occupied by the “Bonus Army” of WWI veterans, their families and affiliated groups demanding immediate cash payment of their service bonuses (which were not supposed to be redeemed until 1945) to help get them through the Depression years. “Hooverville,” the song co-written by Mark Brinkman and Shannon Slaughter, addresses the deprivations suffered by the encampment’s residents, whose jobs and pensions were gone and houses repossessed in the aftermath of 1929’s economic calamity. Taking the lead vocal, Edgar Loudermilk, with his somber tenor voice to which Moore adds kenning upper register harmony in the choruses, strikes the perfect tone in summoning the hopelessness the lyrics limn, which leaves room for Benson’s spiky mandolin solo, Dillings’s stately banjo and Haynes’s urgent fiddling to underscore the mounting desperation inherent in Loudermilk’s reading. Needless to say, “Hooverville” is a song for our time like no other (eons better than anything the hapless Tom Morello has come up with for the so-called OWS “movement” that now seems bent on seizing others’ private property as its own--see the following statement from Trinity Church’s Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper at and a solemn, measured reminder of issues critical to the moment at hand. It may well be, though, that Ronnie Bowman’s “What’s the World Coming To” is even more resonant than “Hooverville,” set as it is in the present day and recounting the diminished fortunes of a woman in North Platte, Nebraska, who’s lost everything and now muses, “…no one knows just what in God we trust” and worries that “love of money has made a fool of us.” With the mandolin playing delicate fills behind him and the fiddle sending up a restrained weep, Moore soberly tells the tale, which is set in a gentle folk-flavored arrangement not unlike a Gordon Lightfoot rumination, right down to the slight but telling quaver in Moore’s voice. As the final track on the album, it closes matters on a provocative note, with a sudden, abrupt halt after Moore sings another refrain of “what in the world is this world comin’ to,” leaving the question hanging in the air, begging response, as it is right now.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, ‘Me and Dad,’ a song from the band’s self-titled 2009 album, written by Ronnie Bowman. Posted at YouTube by coasterrider43.

Apart from these, RM and company return to some classic bluegrass/country themes in the plaintive sentiments and easygoing rhythm of “If Your Heart Should Ever Roll This Way Again,” a heartbreaker centered on a restless lass trying to figure out where she belongs; a tasty, lilting western-swing influenced love song, “Moon Magic,” with a swinging vocal by Moore and some lively, jubilant fiddling courtesy Justen Haynes on one of the album’s most engaging tunes; a sprightly instrumental workout allowing each band member room for a bright-eyed solo; and a celebratory “Sugarfoot Rag” (from Hank Garland and George Vaughn), carefree and spirited in describing the singer’s intent to whoop it up with his gal after winning a bundle at the horse races, which breaks from a loping pace into a full-on sprint about three-quarters of the way through as the banjo, fiddle, mandolin race to a rousing, figurative photo finish.

Taking time to have some fun in between the heartbreak and the topicality herein, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out hit the bullseye in year twenty--Prime Tyme offers a taste of all that has been remarkable about the band over the course of two decades. Funny thing is, the fellows sounds like they’re just getting started.

Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out’s Prime Tyme is available at

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