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IIIrd Tyme Out, Stevens Family offer stirring performances

Museum of National Heritage, Lexington, Mass., Feb. 1, 1997

By Jeffrey B. Remz

LEXINGTON, MA - IIIrd Tyme Out, one of the leading progenitors of bluegrass, admitted they had not been in the Boston area for a long time.

As for the opening act, the Stevens Family, one of the new bright lights, they never had set foot in New England.

But after the two were paired at the 20th anniversary part of the Boston Bluegrass Union with two sets apiece, they had better be back and quick.

IIIrd Tyme Out, winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association's band honors, possessed a looseness in stage spirit, but also knew how to put it across when it came to playing and singing.

Lead singer Russell Moore's high tenor was on target throughout in a combination of straight bluegrass and gospel numbers singing with warmth and feeling ranging in topics from an auto worker leaving to Detroit to a failed relationship ("Raining in L.A.") to celebrations of Jesus ("Feed Me Jesus").

But the vocal proficiency was not only limited to Moore. He combined with fellow band members Ray Deaton, Steve Dilling and Wayne Benson on a capella readings of The Platters' "Only You (And You Alone)" and "Swing Low, Sweet Charior"from last fall's gospel disc "Living On the Other Side" to fine effect. Deaton's basser than bass vocals were a particular joy.

And they were no slouches musically either. Fiddler Mike Hartgrove was on target throughout, adding the right spice to the songs, while the imposing Dilling knew his way around the banjo.The same could be said for Benson on mandolin, who contributed his own charged song, "Tucker."

They also played it loose, enjoying a camarerderie with Dilling often the chief joker at the expense of his band mates. And even himself when he was challenged to dance around by an audience member, did so, limped about and wondered if the band had workmen's comp.

IIIrd Tyme Out demonstrated why they are are one of bluegrass' best.

The Stevens Family is comprised of Doug Stevens and his wife Betty on acoustic and upright bass respectively and sisters April and Beth. The impish April plays fiddle, and Beth does the honors on banjo.

While the Stevens Family has recorded half a dozen albums in the gospel/bluegrass vein, Beth and April Stevens released "Sisters" on Rounder late last year, one of 1996's finest albums, delving into country. Deaton produced the disc.

Picture a vocal combination of Dolly Parton (April) and Emmylou Harris (Beth) with soaring harmonies, nice picking, and a batch of quality songs they've penned, and you'll get the idea. They carried the vocals splendidly with lots of emotion,

The group was even stronger, more forceful in concert than on the album. And despite being on unfamiliar turf, they appeared quite relaxed, appreciative and perhaps even surprised at the standing ovation they received at the end of their second set.

Highlights included a cover of Steve Earle's very mournful "My Old Friend the Blues," "In My Time of Dying" and "Sisters," a song about April watching her older sister grow up and get married.

This is definitely a band to watch in the near future with the focus clearly and rightfully on April and Beth Stevens.

The groups joined together at the end, knocking home Bill Monroe's "Gold Rush" with aplomb. As Deaton told the sold-out crowd of 390, "We've had more fun that we were supposed to."P>If Boston has to wait long for either of these groups to show up soon, then we must be living on the wrong side.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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