The band Shenandoah cultivated their sound during a most fertile time in country music. The five-man band from Alabama, led by frontman singer Marty Raybon, made its debut in 1987 and scored its first Top 10 a year later with “She Doesn’t Cry Anymore.” Cut to 1989 and Shenandoah began burning up the charts with three straight No. 1 singles, “The Church on Cumberland Road,” “Sunday in the South,” and “Two Dozen Roses.”
They held their own against the vaunted “Class of ’89,” a group of new artists that included Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson. The band picked up multiple nominations from the CMA for Vocal Group of the Year and was named the 1991 Vocal Group of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. They won a Grammy for their collaboration with Alison Krauss, “Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart.”
Now, after numerous personnel changes, including a 17-year departure by Raybon, Shenandoah has come roaring back with its first country album in 20 years, “Reloaded.” The album, set for release on March 16th, features live recordings of many of their classic hits along with three new songs. Raybon and original founding member and drummer Mike McGuire sat down with “S&E Nashville” to share thoughts on the album and other topics.
The band received a huge boost when Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts came on board to produce the record. It so happens that DeMarcus and his Flatts mates Joe Don Rooney and Gary LeVox were Shenandoah buffs from years back. “Marty had been gone from the band for 17 years,” McGuire begins. “He had been back with us for a few months and somebody let Jay know that. He said, ‘man that’s exciting. I’m a big Shenandoah fan.’ He told us that the first song Rascal Flatts ever sang together was ‘The Church on Cumberland Road.’ He wanted to get us into the studio and see if he could get a deal for us.”
Raybon, McGuire and the other members started looking for original songs, and Raybon figures that they listened to several hundred. They narrowed the list to five, with three making the final cut. “They were all outside songs,” Raybon explains. “Our whole career, we have always been the ones to pick the songs.” The lead single from the album, “Noise,” marks the band’s first release to country radio in 20 years.
“We went into the studio with Jay,” McGuire notes, picking up the thread. “He contributed some musically as well. He’s a really versatile musician.” DeMarcus brought the new material to the BMG record label, which expressed an interest in the project with one vital recommendation. “They wanted us to do some live songs,” McGuire says. “They also wanted to have songs that they could release to radio. That’s why I call this a ‘hybrid album’ because it’s part live and part studio.”
The “live” portion realizes a career-long dream for the band. “We had always wanted to do a live album,” Raybon says with a smile. “But every time we asked our label they would say that live albums aren’t in vogue or they don’t sell.” The live tracks on “Reloaded” include “The Church on Cumberland Road,” “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” “Sunday in the South,” and “I Want to Be Loved Like That.” Fans will likely detect some new tweaks to these old favorites, such as the slow drum beats that kick off “Next to You, Next to Me.” But they’re still instantly recognizable.
“You always want to change a few things up,” notes McGuire. “You never want to do every song the same way. Jay said he wanted the album to sound like the original Shenandoah, but also make it sound like it belonged on modern country radio. That was the plan. Fans are gonna expect us to sound like the Shenandoah they remembered. And, I think they are going to get that.”
Audiences will also get a full dose of Shenandoah on the road, as the band sets out on its 30th Anniversary Tour. The now-six-member group is booked throughout the summer and into the fall, with additional dates in the works. But even as McGuire and Raybon edge closer into their 60’s, any thoughts of slowing down are nowhere in evidence.
“I know we still enjoy it,” Raybon smiles. “I don’t know if I could do anything different. At one time, I was a bricklayer but I don’t think I want to go back to that. I’m awfully thankful that we get to do something that we love,” Raybon adds before breaking into a wide grin. “There’s nothing in the world that can beat that.”
“Reloaded” is available March 16th.