My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Ralph Ezell

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 

Spotlight Artist: Marty Raybon and Shenandoah

marty raybonMarty Raybon was born in Greenville, Alabama, on 8 December 1959. He grew up playing bluegrass in a family band. In his 20s he moved to Muscle Shoals in the north of the state, where he founded a band with Ralph Ezell on bass guitar, Stan Thorn on keyboards, Jim Seales on lead guitar, and Mike McGuire on drums. The group, known originally as the MGM Band after the club where they had a regular gig, recorded a demo which attracted the interest of CBS Records, who picked them up and also gave them the name Shenandoah. They had also briefly used the name Diamond Rio, although they had no connection with the successful country group of that name.

Their self-titled debut album was released in 1987, but was only modestly successful, and is now very hard to obtain. However, it did provide their first top 30 country hit, ‘Stop The Rain’. The label had faith in the band, and their second album The Road Not Taken realised those hopes, taking them to the top of the charts. Less traditional than some of their peers, their music balanced radio friendly gloss with Mary Raybon’s soulful voice and allied to high quality material helped them to become among the brightest stars of the late 80s/early 90s.

Shenandoah never won as many awards as their talent may have dictated. The band was named the Academy of Country Music Vocal Group of the Year in 1990, and they won CMA and Grammy awards for their collaboration with Alison Krauss, ‘Somewhere In The Vicinity Of The Heart’.

Soon afterwards, however, they ran into trouble when several unknown bands sued them for use of the name Shenandoah. The costs of fighting these claims led the band into bankruptcy and forced them to leave Columbia in 1992.

They had a new start on RCA, and enjoyed further commercial success, before a further move to Capitol imprint Liberty Records in 1994. However, Marty Raybon appears to have been getting restless, and in 1995 recorded his first solo album (a self-titled gospel one) as a side project. Original band members Ezell and Thorn also left around this time. The band’s final album featuring Marty Raybon was a Christmas one.

Soon after this, Marty left Shenandoah for good. He teamed up with his brother Tim to form the duo the Raybon Brothers, and they had a hit single with the sentimental ‘Butterfly Kisses’ in 1997. It sold well but received mediocre airplay, and the brothers disbanded.

Meanwhile, Marty returned to his first musical love, bluegrass, and from 2000 onwards has recorded a succession of fine bluegrass albums. These days he is signed to Rural Rhythm Records.

It was always Marty Raybon’s voice which made Shenandoah. Indeed, they continue to tour without him, with a succession of new lead singers, but it was never the same without his smoky-voiced lead.

Through February we will be exploring Marty’s work with Shenandoah and solo.