The husband and wife duo of Rory Feek and Joey Martin Feek first rose to national attention a mere two years ago when they became contestants on CMT’s Can You Duet. Following a third place finish, they landed a contract with Sugar Hill Records and released their first album in October 2008.
Prior to the competition, the two had never performed together. Joey was an aspiring singer who had briefly been signed to Sony, and Rory was an accomplished Nashville songwriter who had written hits for artists such as Clay Walker and Blake Shelton. Joining forces gave them synergy allowed them the opportunity to play off each others’ strengths.
The Life Of A Song was produced by Carl Jackson. Rory had a hand in writing seven of the album’s twelve tracks, five of which Joey also receives songwriting credit. The album was somewhat of a departure for the roots-oriented Sugar Hill, marking one of the label’s first attempts to market an artist to mainstream country radio. The Life Of A Song is not the typical bluegrass or alternative fare that music fans had come to expect from Sugar Hill; nor does it bear much resemblance to what usually gets played on country radio these days. The production is mostly quiet, acoustic and understated, avoiding obnoxious drum machines, soft-rock electric guitar riffs and bombastic arrangements. Nevertheless, the lead single “Cheater, Cheater” managed to get enough airplay to land at #30 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Its success is in no small part due to the exposure Joey + Rory gained from the Can You Duet competition. The record was also buoyed by the minor controversy that ensued due to its lyrics referring to a “no good, white trash ho”, possibly the first time that phrase had been uttered in a country song. Written by Joey and Rory along with Kristy Osmunson and Wynn Varble, it is the duo’s only Top 40 hit to date.
Based on their first single, it might be tempting to dismiss Joey + Rory as a semi-novelty act, but the rest of the album is, for the most part, comprised of more serious material that is well written and beautifully performed. The second single, the non-charting “Play The Song” takes a mild swipe at the restrictions placed on artists by radio and/or label executives who continually complain that a given song is
…too fast, it’s too slow
It’s too country, too rock and roll
It’s too happy, too sad, too short, or it’s way too long
….It’s too Garth, too George Strait
Too right down the center, too left of the plate
The hook’s too weak or the subject matter’s way too strong whatever ….
My favorite track on the album is “Sweet Emmylou”, written by Rory with Catherine Britt, who has since included it on her recent self-titled release. Beautifully sung by Joey, it is a song about finding solace in old, preferably sad, country records — something most country fans can relate to. Almost as enjoyable are the happier “Tonight Cowboy You’re Mine” and the poignant “To Say Goodbye”, the album’s third and final single which deals with the pain of losing a loved one. The first verse alludes to the surviving spouse of a 9/11 victim, while the second verse deals with the loss of a spouse to Alzheimer’s disease. Like its predecessor, “To Say Goodbye” failed to chart.
The Life Of A Song was one of the most enjoyable albums of 2008, which admittedly was a year of slim pickings for good country music. Its sole misstep was the duo’s cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”, which, while not great, is not sufficiently bad to detract from the overall enjoyment of the album.
Despite its modest success at radio, the album sold respectably, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. Though they continue to seek a breakthrough at radio, it is probably a long shot fora traditionally-oriented act on an indie label to have any kind of sustained mainstream success. As such, Joey + Rory are likely to remain a niche act, which is just fine for those of us who like them just as they are.
The Life Of A Song is widely available. Digital copies are currently on sale for $5 at Amazon.