Modern bluegrass doesn’t get much better, if at all, than Route 3. The Missouri-based quartet’s second album Losing Time marks the point where they move away from being a promising one-off project into the realm of one of the best all-around bands working in the American roots music scene today. They know tradition from one end to the other, even a cursory listen to the lyrics reveals allusions calling back to the style’s past, but they couple that fidelity to the past with a willingness to push the music into individual territory. Bluegrass is not a butterfly pinned under glass in Route 3’s hands but, instead, a viable artistic vehicle.
“Losing Time” is rife with meaning without ever sounding forced, bloated, or waxing philosophical. There is a handful of songs on this album that some listeners may hear and think, well, this is one is a country song masquerading as a bluegrass tune, or this one is folky, and it’s fine. You can’t easily pigeonhole this band. The title song has a classic country tilt, as do other examples of the band’s songwriting, but they ‘grass it up with great skill.
“Cartersville”, a great choice for a single from the album, puts the band’s storytelling talents in sharp focus. Route 3 is wise enough to never overcomplicate things, either in the music or words, and as a result, there is an almost magical give and take between different aspects of the song. It is one of the highlights, no doubt, and pulls listeners in early. “The Bullet Took Two” is a spooky from beyond the grave lament of a murder/suicide that is pure bluegrass, albeit in a darker vein. The classic contrast of the jaunty music with such a tale of unmitigated woe works as well as ever in 2022.
Flashes of the blues burst into the frame for the album’s later track “Mississippi Line” with memorable results. Route 3 never tips the scales too far in that direction, however, and even a stylized nod such as we hear with this cut is enough to deepen the tune. It is an excellent song, especially so late in the running order. The eloquent yet plain-spoken maturity of “I’m Gonna Live” is a late gem on the album that could land flat-footed in listeners’ consciousness but, instead, carries you away with its simple melodic grace.
“Jasper Beckett” stands alongside the earlier “Cartersville” as the album’s twin peaks. It’s appropriately saved as Losing Time’s “climax” and, evaluated as such, closes the album in a masterful fashion. The songwriting draws strong characters without belaboring them and invokes setting and detail for listeners in a way few songs do. Every song on this second album will get an eventual turn in the band’s live set and some of them will remain staples of their act for as long as these four gentlemen decide to make music together. Route 3’s Losing Time is eleven songs of bluegrass goodness that both casual and longtime fans will enjoy.
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