Lebanon, TN -- "Playing music is the easy part," says Russell Moore with an ever-so-slightly rueful laugh as he looks back on more than thirty years of doing what he grew up wanting to do. "By the time we put this band together"-he's talking about IIIrd Tyme Out, his musical vehicle for over twenty years now-"I was realistic enough to know that bands come and go. Being able to stay together is the hurdle that everyone faces. So I didn't have a preconceived notion that someday I'd be celebrating twenty years with llIrd Tyme Outbut I did feel like I would be playing music for the rest of my life."
As it turns out, while many bands have come and gone since that May in 1991, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out have endured. In the process, they've managed to climb to the top not just once, but twice-winning a slew of IBMA vocal awards, including two Male Vocalist of the Year honors, in the mid and late 1990s, then persevering through rough times to see Moore recapturing the Male Vocalist trophy for the past three years. Along the way, they've made a whole new generation of fans, and with the release of Timeless Hits From The Past ... Bluegrassed by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the quintet are poised to deliver their distinctive kind of music more widely than ever.
With his name out front-not to mention all those Male Vocalist awards-it's clear that Russell Moore is the leader of IIIrd Tyme Out, and as the sole remaining founder, that should come as no surprise. The Texas native was bowled over by bluegrass as a teen, and by the time he was in his early twenties, he was the lead singer and guitarist for Bluegrass Hall of Farner Doyle Lawson and his band, Quicksilver. Forming llIrd Tyme Out with a couple of fellow Quicksilver alumni, he is widely acknowledged as one of the most stunning singers ever in a genre filled with vocal stars.
Yet IIIrd Tyme Out is hardly a one-man show, even with a frontman as spectacular as Moore. Banjo man Steve Dilling has been with the band nearly as long as Moore, and his hard-edged drive, signature endings, strong vocals and quick-witted between-songs commentary have become integral parts of the group's sound. Wayne Benson, who started in the band around the same time as Dilling and stayed for nearly a decade before taking ajob with the John Cowan Band, returned in 2007; his tasteful, influential approach to the mandolin is a focal point of the group's instrumental prowess even as he continues to contribute in the vocal department.
Though he's the youngest member of the band, fiddler Justen Haynes follows Dilling when they're ordered by length of continuous tenure. A member for nearly a decade, he's a second-generation bluegrasser who's earned the admiration of peers and fans alike for his supple melodic lines and tasteful vocal support. And though bassist Edgar Loudermilk is the newest member of the group, he was already known to fans for stellar work with the likes of Marty Raybon-and he's been making major contributions as a compelling vocalist in his own right, too.
Their latest release, Timeless Hits From The Past ... Bluegrassed, takes the group in some exciting new directions. "We started off thinking about a George Jones tribute," Moore says, "But I felt that we were leaving out too many great artists and great songs-and once we went to the more general idea, we had room not just for the country stuff that's helped to shape who we are, but some of the key songs of llIrd Tyme Out that have shaped us, too. And then, when [Alison Krauss & Union Station's] Barry Bales offered to help us, it was like a light bulb went on. I thought, maybe it's time that we did bring someone in from outside the band to put an ear and thumbprint on it, make it the best it could possibly be. It's something different for us, and it really worked out well."
The new project has plenty of nods to classic country in vintage numbers like "Mama Tried," "Farewell Party" and "Golden Ring" (which features a stunning Moore duet with gospel sensation Sonya Isaacs), but there are some surprises, too, including "Modem Day Bonnie & Clyde" and "Tulsa Time"-and there's room for some key songs from Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out's own past, too. Their arrangement of the doo-wop classic, "Only Y ou"-a song that has brought audiences to its feet for well over a decade-gets a few new twists, and an all-time favorite, "John & Mary," gets a new lease on life with some help from country chanteuse Pam Tillis.
Add it all up, and the future is looking very bright for Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out. Indeed, if one measure of success is the degree to which younger and newer musicians look to a group for inspiration, then IIIrd Tyme Out is about as successful as a bluegrass group can be, for a whole generation of young pickers and singers can be heard across the country trying their hand at llIrd Tyme Out classics. "It's one of the greatest compliments you could ever have," Moore acknowledges. "It's humbling to know that they think that much of what we're doing-and sometimes it makes you think wow, we really are making a difference. People are taking notice."
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