It’s hard to believe that Marty Raybon has been working in the music business for forty years, but the arc of his career has been so sweeping that it would have been hard to have achieved so much in less time. From his start in a family-based bluegrass band in Florida, to working as a songwriter in Nashville, commercial success as the lead singer for Shenandoah and back to bluegrass in recent years, he’s pretty much done it all. If he’s grown tired of it all, it doesn’t show.
His newest recording, The Back Forty, shows him and his band Full Circle in fine form. While not breaking new ground in terms of sound, there’s an impressive range of songs here. Hard-driving bluegrass? “That Janie Backer” has it covered. Need a prison song? There’s the Raybon original “The Big Burnsville Jail.” Bluegrass cover? Yep—“The Late Night Call Of The Whippoorwill.” Something from the old country catalog? Check out the version of “Slowly (I’m Falling).” It’s all just fine.
Yet where The Back Forty really shines is when things slow down a little and allows Raybon to wrap that great voice around a catchy melody and heartfelt lyrics. “A Little More Sawdust On The Floor” and “Mountain Love” just knock it out of the park. The recording brings together a solid mix of originals (Raybon co-wrote half of the songs) and well-selected familiar tunes. The band plays with drive and taste, the harmonies tight and the arrangements tighter while keeping the focus on Raybon’s lead vocals, as it should be. He still has one of the most compelling voices in bluegrass today. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 750, Mt. Juliet, TN 37121, www.ruralrhythm.com.)AWIII