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IIIrd Tyme Out still shows it has much to offer

Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, Mass., December 1, 2007

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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IIIrd Tyme Out earned a reputation as one of the best bands in bluegrass music after 16 years together. Their star may not be quite what it was when they went left Rounder to start their own label, but that could be about to change and based upon their fine show, deservedly so.

Rounder will release "Footprints: A III Tyme Out," a collection out in January with a few new songs.

While strong on disc, concerts by the southern-based band make it clear why they have earned a slew of International Bluegrass Music Association awards over the years.

It all starts with great singer Russell Moore. His voice remains an instrument into itself, hitting the high notes with ease and giving a sense of beauty to the songs.

Through 2 sets and about 90 minutes of music at the Boston Bluegrass Union show, Moore provided pure pleasure in his understated, easy going style.

But Moore is not the only ingredient that makes IIIrd Tyme Out tick. This is one tight band even though it has changed lineups over time. Wayne Benson returned earlier this year after a three-year absence to play mandolin, bringing an understated intensity to his mandolin.

Edgar Loudermilk joined on upright bass in July, replacing founding member Ray Deaton. Justen Haynes joined on fiddle three years ago replacing Mike Hartgrove.

Banjo man and mainstay Steve Dilling handles his duties quite well and also is the main speaking voice of the group, often funny and down home.

And to replace Deaton on bass vocals, they went the "cheap route" - they brought out their bus driver, Doug Driscoll. But the guy can do far more than drive a bus as he added a spark to the music as well on a reading of the standard "How Great Thou Art" and Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons."

This remains one-tight band despite the personnel changes. IIIrd Tyme Out did not adopt a paint-by-the-numbers approach to the music. Depending on the need, Benson might take backing vocals or one of his band mates, keeping the sound fresh.

There was a mixture between instrumentals, a cappella numbers, gospel and straight ahead bluegrass. Many of the songs tended to be about small town life (the fine opening of "Coal Mine Blues") or family themes ("Me And Dad"). Whatever it is they sing about or play doesn't much matter because the boys let loose and give fresh, lively treatments to the music.

Dilling acknowledged there had been rumors that IIIrd Tyme Out might be calling it a day, but he squashed that. That's good news because this is a band that still has a lot to say and offer.

Travis Chandler and Avery County opened with a pleasing 40-minute set of traditional bluegrass. They sound good and have a good look about them with the quartet decked out as sharp dressed men.

They go for a Buzz Busby/Red Allen approach to their music, paying homage to bluegrass of yesteryear. But one of the best songs was acoustic guitarist Matt Jones's "Ramblin' On My Mind."

On the flip side, Chandler and company were not too high on originality and could have used a lot more diversity in their comments besides stating numerous times how honored they were to be in Massachusetts.