My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review – Shenandoah – ‘Now and Then’

MI0000088499Change was in the air for Shenandoah as the 90s rolled to their mid-point. Liberty, the label upon which they released In The Vicinity of the Heart, had a name change back to Capitol Records Nashville. Marty Raybon released a solo gospel project in November 1995, and the band contributed “Can’t Buy Me Love” to Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles that same year. Stan Thorn and Ralph Ezell, two of Shenandoah’s founding members, exited the group around this same time as well.

Amidst the upheaval they were able to deliver a new album, with the band now a trio. Now and Then, a record consisting of five new songs and eight re-recordings of their biggest hits for Columbia, dropped in 1996 with Don Cook producing once again.

Album opener “All Over But The Shoutin,’” a rockilin’ honky-tonker was the first and only single, peaking at #46. The production on the track is listenable, but Raybon’s rapid-fire lyrical delivery is awful and leaves the track without room to breathe. “Lonely Too Long” isn’t much better with a dated line dance-esque sound and cliché ‘country boy meets city girl’ lyrics. “Nowhere To Go But Back” hardly reverses the trend, serving up more nondistinctive dreck.

“I Got You,” with it’s fiddle heavy production sounds like it came from a completely different album. Raybon sings with his trademark-relaxed twang here, and it’s a nice change of pace. The only ballad among the new tracks, “Deeper Than That” is okay, but suffers from a rudimentary lyric and bland production.

The rest of Then and Now, except for inclusion of “Somewhere In The Vicinity of the Heart,” which closes the album, consists of the aforementioned re-recordings. I’m not a fan of this practice at all, especially in the age of digital downloads where the re-recording is often the only available version of a song. I understand why artists do it, so their songs are available again, but it’s still an annoyingly cheap ploy to scam the fans that don’t know any better.

I don’t think I’d mind this practice as much if the songs were nicely updated, but they’re just cheap carbon copies of the originals. Only “Mama Knows” actually sounds good. The others, particularly “Two Dozen Roses” and “Sunday In The South” lack the magic of the originals.

As a whole, Now and Then is a weak, weak album deficient in quality songs with tasteful arrangements. As the final album for the band in its semi-original form (they formally disbanded in 1997) it’s a shame their ten-year career closed on such a sour note. With all the hits they gave us in their prime, they and their fans deserved so much better than weak re-recordings and mailed in original tunes. Download “I Got You” and leave the rest in the dust. You’ll be better for it.

Grade: D 

9 responses to “Album Review – Shenandoah – ‘Now and Then’

  1. Razor X February 19, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Bear in mind that 1996 was not the age of digital downloads. Shenandoah did a lot of label hopping and probably wanted some of their earlier hits under Capitol’s control.

    • Jonathan Pappalardo February 19, 2014 at 10:46 pm

      Yeah, I get it. A person just has to be careful today, especially when they might not be aware of the song they are downloading is the original or not. I can usually tell the difference, but it’s not that simple in all cases.

      No matter why an artist re records their hits (usually for the reason you stated, Razor) I still hate the practice. Especially when I want the original hit I hear on satellite radio.

  2. ked1989 February 19, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Let me just clarify that it was Capitol who insisted on Shenandoah recording those songs for their label. Shenandoah had wanted to finally record a live album, but Capitol Records CEO Scott Hendricks decided against that for them, opting for this “10 Anniversary” album instead. Sadly, yes, Sony is dragging their feet in rereleasing the classic Shenandoah albums like “Road Not Taken” and “Extra Mile” digitally. Capitol Records, however, have not, and these are the versions most listeners discover first nowadays.

    Also, you are incorrect saying that Ralph Ezell left the band at this point. If you look at the liner notes, you will see that he is credited for playing on the album. He left after this albums release.

    I have been a Shenandoah fan for over 20 years, and I appreciate your reviews of these albums. Just wanted to point this information out to you. Thanks.

    • Jonathan Pappalardo February 20, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Thanks for the clarification, ked1989. I didn’t know Scott’s intentions for this release. Makes sense, although he clearly didn’t have the consumer in mind. A live album would’ve been a far more appealing option to celebrate their ten years in the business.

      Aren’t the originals available digitally on their 15 Greatest Hits album? That’s where I found the Shenandoah hits I downloaded, not this album.

      • ked1989 February 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm

        You’re welcome sir!

        No, 15 Greatest Hits is yet another “Now And Then” compilation with tracks from “In The Vicinity Of The Heart” and some unreleased songs from those sessions thrown in.

        By the way, I am happy to report that “Extra Mile” is available on Google Play as a digital album! It’s my all time favorite album. It’s great having those original hits available as a digital download.

        If you want the original hits on a “Best Of” compilation, check out “Super Hits” on iTunes.

      • Ken Johnson February 23, 2014 at 12:00 am

        “…A live album would’ve been a far more appealing option to celebrate their ten years in the business…. ”

        Marketing 101: most consumers will buy something they are familiar with before purchasing something that that are not. So Hendricks’ likely rationale was that because the band’s best days were already in the rear view mirror he wanted to capitalize on their glory days with a CD loaded up with familiar titles. The album could then become a “catalog” item with a much longer shelf life. A live album would’ve only appealed to the group’s rapidly diminishing core followers.

        Don’t get me wrong, I despise remakes too. But a lot of fans aren’t musically wise and just purchase CD’s with songs they like. That’s why this phenomenon happens so often in country music.

  3. Paul W Dennis February 20, 2014 at 7:03 am

    I’m not quite as down on this album as you are, but it clearly wasn’t one of their better efforts . At the time, the original hits were still available, so this album seemed unnecessary

    • Jonathan Pappalardo February 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Paul, I think our attitudes towards this album are the same. Would you have rated it lower than a D?

      • Paul W Dennis February 20, 2014 at 8:36 pm

        No – I’d give it a C-. Although it wasn’t Marty’s best vocal, I like “All Over But The Shoutin’ ”

        Since both RCA and Columbia are now under the same corporate shield, it is ridiculous that BMG (or someone) hasn’t put out a nice two CD set covering the best of the years on Columbia and RCA

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