The voice of such classic country hits as "The Church on Cumberland Road," "Next to You Next to Me" and "Somewhere in the Vicinity of the Heart" is back. Marty Raybon is reuniting with Shenandoah, the band he co-founded in 1984 but left after their 1997 tour to travel other musical roads. Raybon tells Rolling Stone Country that getting back together with bandmates Mike McGuire, Stan Munsey and Chris Lucas was a long time coming.
"We were not a band that broke up because of dissension," he insists. "We had our disagreements, as partners do in a business relationship, [but] we were then and remain to be friends. Returning to the band had actually been talked about on several different occasions throughout the years. I've always been truly proud of what we accomplished… the songs we recorded, the way they moved people. For years, all of us have heard what those tunes, those stories, meant to folks. We feel there is more to be said. So it's time to reload and fulfill the request of fans who want to see us back together."
"Having Marty back is like putting on an old baseball glove that fit your hand perfectly a long time ago," adds McGuire. "We're like brothers, so playing all our old hits together again feels natural. At the same time, we lost our bass player Ralph [Ezell] seven years ago to a heart attack and our keyboard player Stan [Thorn] has been gone for years, as well. So there will be new faces with us. But at the end of the day, having Marty’s voice coming out of the speakers again will make it be Shenandoah all over again."
Known just as much for their soulful ballads as their honky tonk dancefloor staples, Shenandoah are now working on new music for a future album. Raybon says they're more concerned with great lyrics and melodies that transcend time than jumping on any sort of trendy country radio bandwagon.
"If given opportunity, the songs we have recorded right now will fill a lot of voids," he hopes.
They'll likely test out some of those new tunes on the road, with tour dates that start October 24th in Enoch, Alberta, Canada. (See a list of cities and dates below, which is expected to expand soon.) In rehearsing for their upcoming dates, the band members have felt pressure to find a balance between appeasing fans of their old music with sounding fresh.
"We have to set a bar that surpasses everything we've done in the past," says Raybon. "In the balancing of new and old songs, there will not be a great deal of change. Stage and lighting has come along way from where it was when we left it, but it still comes down to the music and what people are wanting to hear."
Shenandoah have already made a bit of a comeback, in the form of Miranda Lambert's chart-topping Platinum album. Raybon sings harmony with the country superstar on "Another Sunday in the South," which pays tribute to the 1989 Shenandoah song, "Sunday in the South," and namechecks the band in its chorus.
"Every generation of country artists have people who inspired them to do what they do,” says Lambert. “At the heart of my country inspiration is Shenandoah. They created a pure sound that takes you back home every time. And most of us are still trying to replicate that sound today!”
Lambert actually opened for Shenandoah about a decade ago at a show in Virginia. Surprisingly, McGuire reports that the thing he remembers most about the Texas spitfire was "how shy she was."
"We were both leaning against the back of the stage watching another opening band play and I introduced myself to her. She acted like she didn’t know what to say," he recalls. "But when she got on the stage all her shyness went away. I knew right then that she was a great performer and was going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Shenandoah Tour Dates:
October 24 – Enoch, Alberta, Canada
October 25 – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
November 1 – Oxford, Alabama
January 24, 2015 – Weirsdale, Florida
March 6, 2015 – Lancaster, Pennsylvania
March 7, 2015 – St. Mary's, Pennsylvania
April 4, 2015 – Mt. Vernon, Kentucky
May 16, 2015 – Sheffield, Alabama
November 13, 2015 – Wilkesboro, North Carolina (Merlefest)