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Marty Raybon comes full circle

By Jon Lupton, March 2003

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Although like most all bluegrass fans, he's pleased with the attention the music has gotten in the wake of "O Brother," but is quick to say that this album was not timed to cash in on that, and that he had been talking to Austin as far back as two or three years before the movie ever hit the screens.

"I think I kinda talked him into it," he chuckles. "When I brought the project to Tim, I'd picked the material and picked the band to do it, and the studio and all that other kind of stuff, then I sent him a copy of it, and then he said, 'Man, I'd like to have this at my label, but I sure would like to remix it. I thought, that's fine, it wasn't mixed anyway...I mean, it had a 'storehouse mix' on it, but it didn't have the ears on it like ol' Tim's got. I tell you, Tim Austin's got the finest set of ears, as far as mixing and engineering. That is so important because the recordings in bluegrass have come such a long way."

That Raybon and Austin seem to make a good producer-engineer team is reflected in the fact that, even before any reaction to "Full Circle" can be judged, they're already planning three more projects, and Raybon promises more of the same, including more re-worked Shenandoah tunes.

"You know, in fact, ('Mama Knows') is going to be on the next one. That one and 'Sunday In The South,' both of those things lend themselves to the bluegrass arrangement because they were real airy and real acoustical. The flatpicking thing on the guitar, the instrumentation just lends itself to those songs."

Backing up Raybon on "Full Circle" is a standout cast that, along with brother Tim, includes the likes of guitar and mandolin ace Bryan Sutton and singer Paul Brewster (both veterans of Skaggs' band, Kentucky Thunder), Dobro wizard Rob Ickes (Blue Highway), David Talbot (Lonesome Standard Time) on banjo, Shad Cobb (Osborne Brothers and Mike Snider) on fiddle and Terry Smith (Osborne Brothers) on bass.

When not in the studio, though, Raybon wants to start hitting the concert and festival circuit, so he set about the difficult task of recruiting an impressive touring band that finally included Glenn Harrell (fiddle), Mike Galbard (banjo), Clay Jones (guitar), Ashby Frank (mandolin) and Edgar Loudermilk (bass).

Though he focused for the new album on his lead vocals, he thinks the Shenandoah faithful might be surprised to see him playing rhythm guitar on stage - and loving it.

"When I played with Shenandoah, they always said, you know, they was four musicians and a singer," he laughs. "I love playing bluegrass rhythm, and I kinda follow the Jimmy Martin thing. Now, the only reason in the world why I didn't play it on the record (is) when you're kinda trying to wear all the hats when you're doing it, when the tracks are being laid down, you want to make sure you're listening to make sure everyone's doing what you'd like for them to do, see if somebody got their part in there the way that you felt it. It was just one thing less to worry about while you were doing it, while we were laying down the tracks. And to be honest with you, most of it was for me to pay attention to myself, to make sure I was doing my thing right."

Following his departure from Shenandoah, Raybon ran his own record label, Trichord, on which he released a solo country album. With his brother Tim, he also did a duet album on MCA as the Raybon Brothers (with Olivia Newton-John helping out on one cut), which stiffed, and all in all, he had plenty of music and business to occupy his time.

Still, the bluegrass bug wouldn't go away.

"Although playing in (mainstream) country music...was a great deal of joy for me, and I certainly got a lot out of it, and I was extremely blessed in that, it was just time for me to scratch an itch that I had."

He makes it clear, though, that it's an itch that he plans to keep scratching for a while. Bluegrass is where he plans to stay for the foreseeable future, and he's not afraid to say that a big part of it is what motivates an artist in any branch of music - the simple desire to be among the best at what you do.

"I certainly want to be a major force in bluegrass music. I really, honestly, truly believe I've got a little something to offer. I'm not planning on changing anything. I love traditional bluegrass music just as good as anybody does, but I believe, with the right exposure, other people could be convinced of it as well, and I sure would like to be that person to expose them to it. Maybe because of the name, you know, 'that guy used to sing in Shenandoah, he's got a bluegrass album now - yeah, I know, man, I've heard it, and I loved it.' Whatever it takes to further it. I want to be a dominant force in bluegrass music."

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