Marty Raybon is perhaps best known as the lead singer of popular 90’s country band Shenandoah, which had number one hits with such songs as Sunday in the South and Two Dozen Roses. However, he has also released several projects which show his bluegrass influences. His latest album, Southern Roots and Branches (Yesterday and Today), released on Rural Rhythm Records, sits firmly within the bluegrass world while still showing his love of country music.
Southern Roots and Branches features a great mixture of songs, both newly and previously-recorded. Raybon includes covers of several classic tunes, ranging from Jimmy Martin’s Home Run Man to the Flatt and Scruggs standard Down the Road. Raybon’s distinctive, country-tinged vocals help to put a modern spin on these songs, while still staying true to their traditional background. Several Gospel songs are also featured on the album, with the stripped-down style (featuring only acoustic guitar and harmony singers) used on Squire Parsons’ now-classic Beulah Land allowing Raybon’s vocal strength to truly shine.
Bluegrass comes to the front with the album’s lead single, the banjo-fueled Dirt Road Heartache, as well as a couple of Bill Monroe songs which Raybon has chosen to include: Rocky Road Blues and White House Blues. Big Pain, a Raybon original co-written with Billy Droze and John Fountain, is a fantastic example of contemporary bluegrass in which the singer has “dug a hole so deep and low [he] can’t find [his] way out.”
Raybon’s country background particularly shows through on the updated versions of a few Shenandoah tunes: the upbeat love song Next to You, Next to Me and Ghost in This House, the lonesome tale of a couple whose relationship is too far gone to salvage (which was also previously covered by Alison Krauss and Union Station). Even though these were originally country songs, their new arrangements are pleasing and they fit well alongside bluegrass standards. Another tune on the album, the Rodney Crowell-penned Long Hard Road, would not have been out of place on a Shenandoah album and is sure to please crossover fans.
While Raybon takes care of lead vocal duties on the album and adds rhythm guitar, he is also supported by a talented selection of bluegrass music’s best musicians. Tim Stafford, Mark Fain, Shad Cobb, Rob Ickes, Justin Moses, Bryan Sutton, Ashby Frank, and Raybon’s brother Tim are among the artists featured on this album.
Southern Roots and Branches seems to be the perfect title for Marty Raybon’s latest release. The twelve track disc not only features tunes from bluegrass pioneers like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and Jimmy Martin, but also includes songs which seem to be right on the fringe between old and new.
For more information on Marty Raybon, please visit his website at www.martyraybon.com.
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John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, and is now pursuing a Masters degree in Appalachian Studies at ETSU.
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