IIIrd Time Out,
Back to the Mac
(Rounder, 2001)

IIIrd Tyme Out is one of the best traditional bluegrass bands playing today, and they're heard at full throttle on this CD, the second released of their live concerts at the Mountain Arts Center (the MAC) in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. The boys sound great, there's an enthusiastic crowd on hand, and the recording makes you feel like you're right there.

The festivities start off with "Come Back to Me in My Dreams," packed with hot picking and fine singing. It segues into a maudlin delight called "Medals for Mothers," which boasts some transcendent vocal harmonies, one of IIIrd Tyme Out's greatest strengths. The next track, "When My Time Comes to Go," goes a long way toward establishing the band as the premiere performers of bluegrass gospel, as does the classic "Drifting Too Far From the Shore." The combination of voices make other aggregations, such as Doyle Lawson's current band (still held to be tops in the bluegrass gospel department) sound like also-rans. This is a perfect combination of perfect bluegrass voices, supported by a deep and mellifluous bass, too often absent in most bluegrass vocals, in which the bass part is often just given to the guy who can't sing high.

Mike Hargrove shows off some superb fiddle chops with "Lost John," and Pete Goble and Doyle Lawson's love song, "Please Search Your Heart," receives a sensitive rendition. The band proves their further versatility by switching into blues mode with "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke," and the Del McCoury Band at their bluesiest couldn't improve upon it. The spirit of another bluegrass legend, Bill Monroe, pervades Russell Moore's vocal in "The Old, Old House," a sterling tribute to the daddy of bluegrass.

Wayne Benson is next in the instrumental barrel, and does a blistering job with "East Tennessee Blues." There's a rousing "Nine Pound Hammer," a nice change of pace with a smooth and bluesy Lefty Frizell country ballad, "A Little Unfair," and two solid bluegrass gems back to back, "I Hung My Head and Cried" and "I'll Stay Around." The show closes with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt's "Why Did You Wander," taken at a lightning speed that makes the audience erupt at the end.

Back to the MAC is a pearl of live bluegrass. It reminds us bluegrass lovers why we fell in love with this music in the first place. Moore, Benson and Hargrove, along with bassist Ray Deaton and banjo/guitarist Steve Dilling, invite you to a great evening that any bluegrass fan would be a fool not to accept. If you weren't there on the night, here's the next best thing!

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 23 February 2002