We have learned that the next CD from Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, due January 7, 2013, will be produced in association with Cracker Barrel. Like other recording projects with Cracker Barrel, this new album will be available exclusively from the popular restaurant chain’s many eateries, and their online music store.
Timeless Hits From The Past Bluegrassed will include 12 tracks, mixed between hit songs from the bluegrass and country music worlds – all done up in IIIrd Tyme Out’s inimitable trademark style.
We spoke at length last week with Russell Moore, who shared some details about the just-concluded tracking sessions, putting material together for this album, and getting to work with such a major outfit for the first time.
“We’re really excited about this, we really are. And glad we were able to put it together as quickly as they needed it.
The chance to be associated with Cracker Barrel, their brand and their image, is a win for anybody. The exposure we’ll get from their marketing and distribution is something you just can’t put a price on.”
The deal was worked out through the efforts of Peter Keiser and Josh Trivett of Moonstruck Management, who represent the band. Keiser was actively involved in Cracker Barrel’s entry into music retailing when he served as their Vice President of Marketing. In fact, he was largely responsible for creating the program under which IIIrd Tyme Out is now working.
Things came together quickly, requiring the band to get at it right away for a January release.
“We started working on this as soon as the decision was made to go with Cracker Barrel. We wanted to find songs that fit the theme: songs that influenced us as we were growing up – as fans, musicians and as a band.
We wanted to have as much bluegrass as possible, and still fit into what CB had in mind – songs with mass commercial appeal.”
Looking over the track listing, it appears that they have chosen well, with songs made famous by artists as diverse as Geogre Jones, Glen Campbell, Travis Tritt, J.D. Crowe & the New South, Merle Haggard, Don Williams, The Osborne Brothers, John Denver and Gene Watson. There are even a pair of numbers the band had recorded previously getting a new treatment.
Two of these are duets: Golden Ring, a #1 hit for George Jones and Tammy Wynette in 1976, done here by Russell Moore and Sonya Isaacs; and John & Mary, recorded by IIIrd Tyme out in 1999, sung this time around by Moore with Pam Tillis.
The band played and sang everything else, with Russell on guitar, Steve Dilling on banjo, Wayne Benson on mandolin, Justen Haynes on fiddle, and Edgar Loudermilk on bass.
Breaking with long tradition, the guys brought in Barry Bales (Alison Krauss & Union Station) to produce, which Moore said turned out to be a great move.
“This was the first time we’ve ever had someone outside the group produce. We thought it would be a great time, considring the theme of the recording, to have someone come in with fresh ears, but with a familiarity with what we have done and could do… someone with experience both in and out of bluegrass.
Barry came into this before we ever talked to him. He was speaking with Josh Trivett about some other matter when he learned that we were in negotiations with Cracker Barrel. He volunteered right away to be considered as a producer if everything came together.
It has really worked out great. We had three days booked in Asheville at Echo Mountain studio the second week of October, and then we left to play three shows over the weekend in New York, Tennessee and North Carolina, (NY, NC, TN). The following Monday we were in Nashville at Sound Emporium for two days.
When we left on the 16th we had finished 12 cuts, except for the duet tracks. That’s 12 songs in 5 days, and I have to give a lot of credit to Barry.”
Bales shared his praise right back the other way.
I’ve know most of the guys for years and I thought I was intimately familiar with their musicianship and capabilities. Boy, was I wrong!
Russell and the whole band came in ready to go and knocked it out of the park. There was scarcely a lead vocal pass that couldn’t have been used in its entirety on the final product. And many of them were track vocals done while playing guitar at the same time.
Everybody was prepared and did a great job on their individual instruments and harmonies. Due to the nature of the business that is sometimes unavoidable, we were under an almost impossible deadline before we even started tracking on October 8th. But in spite of that, we finished recording AHEAD of schedule, and the project is on track to be mixed, mastered, and turned in by the end of the month.
I can’t wait for the bluegrass community to hear this, and I’m even more excited for the many new fans that the band is sure to gain through this wonderful partnership with Cracker Barrel.”
Russell was also impressed by how well Bales coordinated with their engineer, Brandon Bell, who had recorded Alison Krauss in the past.
“Brandon and Barry worked so well together – a big reason why we were able to pull this off. I told Brandon that I don’t know if I’ve been so impressed at watching someone work.. so fast and efficient, a real multitasker.”
To Moore’s ear, the record feels like a bluegrass album, even with a good bit of non-bluegrass material. He said that percussion is used on a few tracks; some light, some heavier.
He also shared a few thoughts about a number of the songs.
Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde (originally recorded by Travis Tritt): “This was a rockabilly tune when Travis cut it, but it worked really well with the five string banjo. To pull this off without electric guitar screaming in your face was great. I loved the original cut, and am so happy we could do a good version of our own.”
My Window Faces The South (previously recorded by Willie Nelson): “Wayne played some electric (4 string) mandolin on this one. My first recollection of this song was when Keith Whitley cut it with Crowe. Bob Wills had a good version of that as well. They both preceded Willie’s cut, which is where a lot of folks first heard it I bet. It’s a great tune to be able to stretch out a bit instrumentally.”
Only You (originally recorded by The Platters): “When we cut this in 1996 we repeated the chorus before we ended, but over the past few years on stage, we’ve been singing it straight through. So we cut it like that. That’s what feels natural to us now, and we didn’t want to take anything away from the integrity of the performance worrying about a different arrangement.”
Old Home Place (previously recorded by The Dillards and J.D. Crowe & The New South); Big Spike Hammer (previously recorded by The Osborne Brothers and The Bluegrass Album Band): We play these warming up or jamming all the time backstage. Getting to record those songs was special. I never thought we would have that opportunity. It lets us pay homage to the artists who made those classic recordings.
And yes… we cut them in the original keys of Bb and B!
I have to be honest, I’m really excited about those songs that represent the bluegrass sound, for people outside of bluegrass to get to hear them – right out of the bluegrass handbook.
What a thrill it was to get to record them, both for our bluegrass fans and for people I think will become fans when they hear these cuts.”
John & Mary (originally recorded by IIIrd Tyme Out): Josh or Peter suggested we consider a duet to reinvent the song a little bit. It’s one of our most requested numbers ever, and it felt weird at first to think about changing it. After they brought it up, we started thinking about how we could work it out.
Pam Tillis agreed to sing it with me, but it was too low for her in the key of C. Since the song is based on Wayne playing the mandola in a special tuning, we couldn’t change the key to suit her voice. So I told her look for a way to be expressive and exciting in her own way… reinvent the lines in her range. And she was happy with that idea.”
For the band, the hardest part of this record has been keeping mum to this point. Cracker Barrel had insisted that no information get out until all their publicity and marketing people had signed off.
“Staying quiet has been tough. Street talk already had picked up on this before we could even talk about it.”
But in true road warrior fashion, IIIrd Tyme Out won’t be resting on this laurel. After their traditional December break, they’ll be heading back into the studio again in 2013 to start on their next band album.
And look for them to make appearances at selected Cracker Barrel locations in 2013.
Timeless Hits From The Past Bluegrassed is set for a January 7, 2013 release, at which time it will be available for sale at Cracker Barrel restaurants, from their online music store, and by download from iTunes and Amazon.