Ask any country music fan, artist or enthusiast who the greatest the group of all time is. One of the most consistent or otherwise guaranteed answers would be Shenandoah. An assembled group of prolific singers and musicians who built their legacy by expanding the genre to another level. Their discography is composed of beautiful classics that break the heart then realign the pieces just as quick. But this group of legends hasn’t slowed down their career even after over 30 years of releasing a dozen hit records. Their latest album marks an unleashed set of new songs that features one of the greatest ensembles of superstars the genre has ever been graced with. From top-selling, veteran artists including Luke Bryan and Brad Paisley to newer breakouts like Ashley McBryde and Carly Pearce. Shenandoah humbly presents Every Road, an album that’s been 26 years in the making.
The 10-track album uses a duet style in every song with a different artist which changes the feel of each song. The opener kickstarts this formula with “I’d Take Another One of Those” featuring another inventive group, Zac Brown Band. Rather then focus on “past glories”, as lead singer Mary Raybon puts it, Shenandoah pieced together material for a new generation of fans. But it’s not without its references to past hit singles as the track adds a feel from their 1980s classic “Mama Knows”. The rich vocals of Raybon coupled with Zac Brown’s baritone timbre add one of the best feel-good soundtracks to anyone’s playlist. It’s soft storyline and museful crooning sets the standard for how the album intends to utilize the star power behind each track.
But for all the smooth dancing that surrounds their legacy, the group shows they can turn up the energy and brighten the mood. In the upbeat track “Life Would Perfect” a glass half full is thought of as Brad Paisley lends his voice. One of the first artists they reached out to contribute on the album, Paisley brings all the classic feels reminiscent of his own signature songs. Its playful tales of the simple things that make life perfect layer a rockin’ vibe and swinging soul. From their harmonies the two singers build a sustainable track based on the wants of life with a steady tempo and an out-of-nowhere guitar solo.
But from one A-list star to the other, Shenandoah shifts another gear into their album with a more vibrant, summertime beat. Luke Bryan lends his tropical, party atmosphere to the track “Make it Till Summertime”. As Raybon exclaims, “We’ve actually never had a summertime record” which leaves more reason to include an artist who specializes in that endeavor. The track rages through what’s been a relatively soft compilation of songs with an unapologetic attitude. Bryans dynamic kicks the vocals into a harsher tone with a sense of stubbornness that makes it sustained in youthfulness. Raybon’s own voice starts this trend as, even at his age, the singer shows he can still drive it down. This fearlessness is witnessed again in the album’s title track with Dierks Bentley along for the ride. While the group shows they can embrace new styles, they retain what made them established as songwriters.
As the album shows their experimental side and high-class artists as duets, they bring it down to a simpler take with newer faces. “If Only” takes a calmer, heart-wrenching approach to life and its baggage with the daydreaming vocals of Ashley McBryde. The stimulus vocals of McBryde matches with Raybon beautifully as the heart-stringed guitar tackles more serious subjects. This energy continues with another set of symphonic vocals provided by Carly Pearce. “I’ll Be Your Everything” makes you bring in your partner closer through an album that’s brought in all the highs and lows from a short life.
With a new tour that encompasses the feel of every track, Shenandoah have shown they’re able to bring out the spirt that’s defined their music all these years once again. The accompaniment of powerhouse artists, and new musical elements, makes this as one of the groups most ambitious albums to date. As the summer months approach, the group is optimistic about the record reigniting longtime fans while also adding new ones in the mix. Whether they make you cry or laugh, Shenandoah leaves a guarantee of strong feelings for listeners to enjoy on their latest work.
Reviewed by Trenton Luber