It’s been a long, interesting road for Shenandoah. Rising through the ranks in the 1980s and securing many hits — with three record labels — for a decade (1987-1997) before lead vocalist Marty Raybon left to be in a duo with his brother (The Raybon Brothers) and later as a soloist who sang Country, Gospel and Bluegrass with equal aplomb. Shenandoah — despite the loss of their most-identifying feature in Raybon— somehow survived many member changes (including four different lead singers) to remain an active band for twenty more years. And while they could’ve — like Journey or Stone Temple Pilots — found a vocalist who sounded close to Marty Raybon, the band reunited with him in 2014. Even with his return, Marty Raybon and drummer Mike McGuire are the band’s only original members left now but Stan Munsey has been in the band since 1995. These core members are joined Brad Benge and Jamie Michael to round out the band.
For their first country project with Raybon back in the band (they released the Southern Gospel album Good News Travels Fast in 2016), the band has issued Reloaded as a collection of nine classic hits along with three studio recordings. Raybon remains a fine vocalist, with his bluegrass-soaked tenor the showpiece for the band’s well-written, emotional tunes. Most of their classics like “Next To You, Next To Me” “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too),” “Mama Knows” and “Sunday In The South” are here. The latter one is given an interesting arrangement and feels more like a prog-rock like arrangement with plenty of instrumentals leading into and out of the song. Several standouts include “Ghost In This House,” “Mama Knows” and “Church On Cumberland Road.”
And while I like all of those live songs, I am most-excited about their three new songs, “Noise,” “That’s Where I Grew Up” and “Little Bit of Livin’.” These songs suggest that Shenadoah knows who they are as a band and the kind of songs their fans will love. They’re not reinventing the wheel but there’s no need to do so, either. “That’s Where I Grew Up” is a song which Kenny Chesney once recorded on his Hemingway’s Whiskey album while “Noise” is written by three of Nashville’s best, including writer/artists Radney Foster and Gordie Sampson (Jim McCormack is the third writer). The chorus hook is big while “Little Bit of Livin’” feels like a Classic Shenandoah song that works well with “Church On Cumberland Road” and “Next To You, Next To Me” and could be the best shot at any of sort of radio hit out of the project.
These three new songs leave me excited to see where Shenandoah goes with their next album project. Now signed to BMG, Shenandoah is the kind of band who blends classic sounds with modern sensibilities and it is what makes Reloaded so much fun.