Good News Travels Fast is the first new Shenandoah album in a decade and the first since Marty Raybon rejoined the band as lead singer. Billed as a Gospel album, it is more accurately described as a religious or Christian album. There are no traditional hymns or old Gospel favorites; the album is collection of eleven new, mostly solid tunes, a few of which have a traditional Gospel sound, a few more are more pop and rock flavored, but most are country-sounding (or what country used to sound like) songs with religious or inspirational themes, in the vein of “Sunday in the South” and “Mama Knows”.
The excellent bluegrass-tinged title track is the album’s first single. I’m not sure if it’s being marketed to country radio, where it is unlikely to garner much attention, but it may bet some airplay on Christian radio stations. The first verse, about a former hellraiser who finds salvation is reminiscent of Dallas Frazier’s classic “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”, while the second and third verses deal with the birth and resurrection of Christ. “Didn’t It Rain” and “Sunday Morning Sermon” are in a traditional Gospel style. Both sound like something that might be sung at an old-style revival meeting and both are excellent.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the album’s two weakest tracks – “Hallelujah for the Cross” which is a little more contemporary Christian in style, and “If I’m Right”, which takes issue with those who look down on believers, is a little too rock-leaning for my tastes.
The remaining tracks sound like what we’ve come to expect from Shenandoah. “I Know He Knows” is a nice acoustic number about a father and son relationship, which also serves as a metaphor for the relationship between God and man. “Just Wait, Be Still” is another excellent acoustic tune. Marty Raybon wrote this one with Jerry Smalley and bandmate Mike McGuire. Raybon and McGuire also wrote, along with Mark Narmore, “A Cross Between a Sinner and a Saint”, the album’s opening track. The first verse deals with the protagonist’s struggles to walk the straight and narrow. Midway through the song, however it switches course and talks about the two criminals who were crucified alongside Christ. In this verse the “saint” is the criminal who repents and the “sinner” is the one who still does not believe, and Jesus is on the cross between a sinner and a saint. The analogy doesn’t quite work, however, because clearly among that trio, it is Jesus, not the repentant criminal, who is the saint. But that is probably nitpicking at what is an otherwise good song.
There aren’t any huge surprises here; Shenandoah fans are bound to enjoy this album unless they dislike religious themed music. I wasn’t in the best of moods when I started listening to it but found I was feeling better by the time it finished playing. In that respect, at least, the album accomplishes its goal.