Album of the Week #34 – IIIrd Tyme Out’s Letter To Home

Letter To Home - IIIrd Tyme OutAm I the only one who still finds it hard to believe that IIIrd Tyme Out is over twenty years old? Maybe it’s because their music still sounds as fresh. Maybe it’s because Russell Moore’s timeless voice sounds as good as ever. Maybe it’s because they’re, once again, dominating the bluegrass world. Whatever it is, IIIrd Tyme Out is more than relevant in today’s acoustic music scene. Their resurgence  over the past few years has helped them connect with legions of new fans.

I have had the pleasure of witnessing this firsthand.

This past March, I recruited my friend, Gabe, to work as a volunteer at the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival. Although he was recruited primarily because of his concealed carry credentials, Gabe was eager to learn more about bluegrass which he hears me blaring all the time. He loved it all, but he was particularly captivated by IIIrd Tyme Out, from whom he purchased a stack of albums that weekend. He and his fiancé have since latched on to everything IIIrd Tyme Out they can find, and already have plans to incorporate multiple IIIrd Tyme Out songs in their upcoming wedding ceremony!

Gabe and Lindsey’s newfound passion for Russell and the boys music has encouraged me to go back and remind myself why I fell in love with their music so many years ago.

One of my favorite IIIrd Tyme Out albums has been 1995’s Letter To Home. As a small child, I was mesmerized by the band’s picture inside the “III.” I have since figured out how they got inside the letters, and have fallen in love with the album for more mature reasons.

Their first album for Rounder Records, Letter To Home features such a wide variety of material. Country pioneers, band originals, Nashville’s finest and more all contribute great material showcasing the band’s depth of influences – a constant in their tenure of twenty years plus.

A big fan of the Delmore Brothers’ music, Broken Hearted Lover is one of my favorite songs of theirs, and IIIrd Tyme Out’s version is terrific. Without a doubt, the Alton and Rabon lyric “I thought I was falling for an angel, when I first looked into your eyes. Now, that I know all about you, I know your home’s not in the skies” is without a doubt one of most clever lines ever. Steve Dilling’s powerful banjo, on this his debut album with the band, drives the song along while Russell Moore’s powerful vocals insist that you listen to this one twice. Or thrice.

Russell showcases his songwriting on Daydreams. More of an acoustic ballad than a bluegrass song, Daydreams showcases restraint rather than power, but it remains poignant all the same. The song is captivating, and the legendary Kenny Malone’s percussion is a tasteful addition.

One of my favorite mandolin men, Wayne Benson also contributes a strong, original instrumental. Tobacco Jack allows everyone to take a turn. Of course Wayne’s mandolin playing is one of the stars, but I feel IIIrd Tyme Out, as a band, is often underrated instrumentally because of their vocal prowess. Tobacco Jack shows that IIIrd Tyme Out is not just a one-trick pony.

Only You (And You Alone) appears on the album and is a true standout. There’s a reason IIIrd Tyme Out has been named IBMA’s Vocal Group of the Year seven times. This a cappella love song puts the band’s vocal ability front and center; you can’t help but be “wow-ed.” My friends’ Gabe and Lindsey will play this for their first dance as husband and wife, and I’m sure they’re not the first one’s to harness this song’s romantic powers.

Other favorites on this album include Raining In L.A.New Faces In The FieldCan’t Say Goodbye, and the album’s title track, Letter To Home. Needless to say, IIIrd Tyme Out did nothing short of blow fans away with this album, as they’ve been doing for over two decades.

Unfortunately, Letter To Home is no longer in print on compact disc. It is, however, available for digital download on iTunes and Amazon MP3. Four of the album’s tracks do appear on their Footprints collection for Rounder Records. In addition to the download services mentioned above, Footprints can be ordered through County Sales or the Classic Country Connection.

Twenty-two years seems like a lot, and it is, but I at the end of the day, I wish I had a lot more than two decades worth of IIIrd Tyme Out’s music to sift through.

#3TO4EVA (IIIrd Tyme Out Forever!)

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel Mullins is an IBMA award-winning journalist and broadcaster from southwestern Ohio, with an American Studies degree from Cedarville University. He hosts the Walls of Time: Bluegrass Podcast and his daily radio program, The Daniel Mullins Midday Music Spectacular, on the Real Roots Radio network. He also serves as the station’s music director, programming country, bluegrass, and Americana music.