Common sense and many failed previous attempts by others will tell you that a once dominant musical act usually doesn’t make their way back to being significant again. But legendary country group Shenandoah is hoping to do just that.
Led by front man Marty Raybon and co-founding member Mike McGuire, Shenandoah haven’t released an album of all-new music since 1994. Despite the long layoff, the Grammy Award winning outfit reformed in recent years, playing shows here and there with the intention of eventually releasing some new music.
That day has finally come. Featuring collaborations with current country music superstars Luke Bryan, Lady A, and Blake Shelton among many others, the group that has influenced a generation of artists, hope to rekindle some of their legendary vocal harmonies with a new release, Every Road.
I recently spoke with Raybon about the long and winding road back to the recording studio, why the band chose to collaborate with so many artists, and why their single “I’ll Be Your Everything” serves as a declaration of how faith can help us through hard times.
First off, how have you and your family been making it through the coronavirus pandemic?
My son had it early in the year, around the middle of April. He had pretty mild symptoms. Of course his wife didn’t have it at all and neither did their small child. This stuff is really kind of like being locked in a room with no floor. It’s pretty strange. And there’s truly no answer to it. What would you think would make sense doesn’t and what doesn’t make sense people can’t make of it. Nobody knows.
So, it’s been a while since Shenandoah has released a new album … 1994 to be precise. Why the decision to release a new record now, 26 years later?
I had been gone from the group for about 17 years. God had allowed me to do a great deal of preaching. And I had put together little bluegrass family gospel band and had been doing a lot of stuff like that. There were several times during that 17 years that me and the other two founding members, Jim Seals and Mike McGuire, had talked about putting the wheels back on Shenandoah and giving her a run. Of course, they had gone on and had been performing with a different lead singer. We talked about (getting back together) probably three or four times, but I always got a check in the spirit about it and it just didn’t seem like the right time to do it.
Then in April 2014, Mike called me and asked, ‘Would you still be interested in doing it.’ And I said, yeah, I sure would. Let’s talk. And then I said, well, let’s do it. Let’s just see where this takes us. So, I called my wife when I was leaving the meeting. She simply asked me, ‘Do you feel a check your spirit about this?’ I said, I don’t feel one this time. I feel like this is a time that we need to be doing it. Put the wheels back on Shenandoah. She said, ‘Okay, I don’t feel that way. But I certainly will let you know if and when I do.’
Then after a few years, we realized that it literally was the providence of God, that I would go back with Shenandoah during this time. So, when it came down to doing a record, we didn’t really want to do another greatest hits album. We already had plenty of those. We had recorded a live record that was done earlier that year that had all the major hits on it. We didn’t want to redo them either.
So, this was the first time that we had been in the studio in 20 something years, I said, let’s think about doing stuff with brand new material, brand new artists, and to be able to bring that to the forefront. Let’s find something new. So, that is what we did.
Every Road is filled with star power collaborations including Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, and Dierks Bentley just to name a few. Why the decision to bring so many people into the project?
I think the reason why was because we were talking at the time about doing a greatest hits record and therefore that meant nine or ten songs at least. So, that thought was kind of out there. And then, we did a benefit concert for Brad Paisley’s wife. She does a wonderful thing in Nashville every year. Kimberly (Williams-Paisley) brings awareness to the health and wellness of children. While that was going on, I got to telling Brad about it. And I said we would really like to do a new album instead of a greatest hits package. And I asked him if we did that would he be a part of it? Fortunately, he said yes.
And then, one thing led to another and so all of a sudden we get Lady A. And we also got Luke (Bryan) about the same time. And then, I saw Blake (Shelton) at the CMA Awards. I said, Hey man, look, because we had been texting back and forth. I need an answer on this. We are going in to cut (the record). Would you be on this project? He said, ‘Yeah, man, I would love to be on it. Send me a tune.’ And we’d really actually need the tune that he would cut because to be honest with you, knowing that Blake was a Shenandoah fan made it that much better. Therefore we knew it was a plan, but it just felt good knowing he was committed to it.
Speaking of collaborations, the song “I’ll Be Your Everything” is a collaboration you guys had with Carly Pearce. Upon listening to it, it really seems to be a declaration of how faith can help us through hard times. What can you tell me about that song?
Of all the times in the world, what better time than now (to release this song). We can talk about a lot of things that we need to fix. My belief is more than anything that’s in the world, this is the be all fix all answer for everything. And my answer is clearly God. The answer is Christ and it always has been.
But of all the times in the world that we’ve ever needed Him, we need the Lord more than anything right now. We need the Lord in our world for peace. This world literally is almost on the brink of civil war between each other. We don’t need another civil war.
What we need is a great awakening. That’s what we need. We need to call out to God and people literally need to be willing to surrender. Not go along to get along. That’s not working. It never has. We obviously need God’s people to stand up and realize that judgment starts in the house of God. It starts with me. That’s where it starts. I want my heart right. I don’t have any ill will toward anybody, and I don’t know of anybody with ill will toward me. I know the Gospel is not on the hit parade or is on everybody’s hit list today. Look, I know there’s a lot of folks who might not go along with that. I get it. Folks can do whatever they want to because they have free will. But I just know that the answer that the world needs and truly what it’s looking for, is to let them know that God literally will be there every time if you will let Him. We didn’t record that song for that gesture. But that is truly is the way that we feel. When we wrote it we felt that way.
When it seems like everybody else wants to put you down I will still love you. I’ll be with you in darkness. I’ll be with you in trials. I will be with you. I’ll be your first breath in the morning. I’ll be the first beat of your heart. I’ll even be the glimmer of sun. It’ll even let you know that you don’t have to be in darkness. If there’s one thing that you know, you’ve got to know that there’s something good about the day. I am good for you today. God truly tells us that every day. He truly does. A lot of folks don’t want to hear that. It’s not a mandate. It’s not a mission statement. But who I am and as I am as a believer, I’m commissioned to share the love of God with people.
After people have listened to Every Road what would you like to see audiences get out of that experience? What is your greatest hope for the album?
If I was to be selfish about anything, it would be that people would listen (to Every Road) and they would believe that thumbs down lyrically and content wise, as far as what this album has to offer, that it truly was the best thing that came out of 2020 when it came to music. That it wasn’t just the artists that were on the project, but it was the songs that stood up and said something to different people, and said things that hit the mark (in their personal lives).
Watch a music video of Shenandoah’s single with Carly Pearce, “I’ll Be Your Everything”: