Album Review

IIIrd Tyme Out - Erase The Miles

IIIrd Tyme Out - Erase The Miles

Observers attuned to bluegrass music's darker, rawer side hear IIIrd Tyme Out's polished, award-winning vocals and burnished solos, or see their smooth, easygoing stage shows, and conclude that the group appeals to a growing suburban audience raised on contemporary country music. But it ain't really so. From its birth, IIIrd Tyme Out has found its meat-and-potatoes audience in the traditional bluegrass mainstream -- southern and midwestern festivals, mostly, the kind that draw good old boys and girls whose taste runs more to beer and pickups than chardonnay and SUVs. Erase The Miles, a compilation drawn from the group's first three albums, goes some distance in explaining the appeal. Leroy Drumm and Pete Goble's hard-charging prison tale, "Moundsville Pen", which opens the set, serves nicely to illustrate. Though it's taken at a moderate tempo, the cut generates tremendous drive, thanks not only to banjo man Terry Baucom's unstoppable right hand, but to the interplay between Alan Bibey's brisk mandolin chop and Ray Deaton's electric bass (he reinforces the backbeat by clipping the end of each note). Lead singer Russell Moore delivers the story with conviction that's almost but not quite belied by the ease and self-confidence with which his voice soars over Bibey and Deaton's stout harmonies, and the solos are equally crisp and assured. All in all, it's a masterful performance, and the impact it had, along with the rest of the band's 1991 debut album, was considerable. Here was a new kind of bluegrass for a new decade, one that combined stunning vocal and instrumental virtuosity with a youthful, almost rock 'n' roll kind of energy, yet stayed bound not only to musical tradition but to the self-contained bluegrass culture. Within a year, the group had established itself as one of the genre's top draws, and IIIrd Tyme Out has remained there ever since. Though there were personnel changes by the time of the band's final Rebel album, Grandpa's Mandolin -- Bibey and Baucom were gone, replaced respectively by Wayne Benson, who stayed, and Barry Abernathy, who didn't -- the sound is consistent throughout the anthology. There are heartfelt ballads such as the title track and Drumm & Goble's "Woman Dressed In Scarlet"; thrilling gospel quartets, including their signature "Little Black Train" and a bravura reading of "When I Cross Over Jordan"; and plenty of straight-ahead bluegrass, such as Hylo Brown's "I've Waited As Long As I Can". Nor are these selections cherry-picked, for there are plenty of strong numbers on the three albums that didn't make the cut. Erase The Miles, like the discs from which it is drawn, may not have the stark appeal of a Ralph Stanley album, but it offers plenty of rewards nonetheless.