Shenandoah‘s new Every Road album is a collaborations album of a different kind. While the nine bonafide hitmakers (Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley, etc. …) were genuine fans of the Marty Raybon-led band long before moving to Nashville, this wasn’t just an opportunity for a generation to line up and kiss the ring of the guy who sings “The Church on Cumberland Road.”
Each brought their lunch pail and signed up for a true partnership. Lady A wrote their own addition (“Every Time I Look at You”) to the recently released album. Paisley’s guitar and sense of humor punctuate “Life Would Be Perfect,” a song structured like so many on his own studio albums. Of “Then a Girl Walks In,” Raybon says:
“Blake [Shelton] could have cut that by himself. He didn’t need us on that record, but we sure are proud that he came along with us on the record.”
Indeed, several of the songs were found after the collaborators were chosen — an approach that works to truly bring in fans of contemporary artists including Carly Pearce (“I’ll Be Your Everything”) and the Zac Brown Band (“I’d Take Another One of Those”). An exception, Raybon points out, is the title track, but when he heard “Every Road” he immediately thought of Dierks Bentley‘s Up on the Ridge album (2010). The sweeping, mountain air chorus feels like just about everything on the “Gone” singer’s 2018 album The Mountain, so even if its lyrics came first, the finished song leaned into the younger singer’s influences and vision.
The same is true for “If Only,” a nostalgic ballad that begs for gratitude and kindness in a year when both seem to be in short supply. The vocals are vintage Ashley McBryde, and Raybon lit up talking about her to the point that it was easy to imagine him coming out of his chair during the phone conversation.
“Ashley McBryde is probably one of the most frank, straight-up, genuine people that I’ve ever met in my life,” he says. “I love her, I do. She’s candid, there’s no hidden agendas … If you ask her an opinion, she believes that you actually want her opinion, so she’ll give it. I actually enjoy relationships like that, I really do.”
The 60-year-old heaps similar accolades on Cody Johnson, who joins him for a rowdy, tongue-in-cheek rocker called “High Class Hillbillies.” Raybon feels that song to his core, he says. But more so, he appreciates the respectful and to-the-point message. If you’re coming to him with what he calls “verbal chatter,” you may find his attention in short supply.
“It’s really nice when you go through the process of getting to know someone and you realize where they are on that scale,” he says, speaking specifically of Johnson, but perhaps about everyone he and his Shenandoah bandmates partnered with on this album.
Aside from an all-star guestlist, what’s remarkable about Every Road is its consistent tone across 10 dynamic songs (“Boots on Broadway” is performed without assistance). After spending time with the gladsome Raybon, it’s easy to assume he purposefully and artfully crafted an album to take a little air out of the world around us. That’s overthinking things a good bit.
“We didn’t try to make science out of anything,” he says before saying goodbye.
“We’ve never been an act that ever sang about drinking and carrying on and cheating and running around and stuff,” he reminds us. “My faith and my trust in the Lord, I just choose to sing about other things other than that. There’s just so many other good things to sing about.”
Every Road is a reminder that while nice guys may not always finish first, they usually finish with more friends willing to buy in on an important project.