My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Joey Feek – ‘If Not For You’

The solo album recorded by the late Joey Feek for Sony in the 1990s was briefly available from the retailer Overstock back in 2009, under the title Strong Enough To Cry, and I reviewed it then. It has now been repackaged with a new title, and made more widely available. Here is that original review:

Joey + Rory were my favorite duo on 2008’s Can You Duet, but I felt a little guilty about hoping they would win, because I couldn’t help feeling Joey was really a solo singer, with Rory just there to support her. I would have been perfectly happy if she had built on the exposure of the TV show to release a solo record, but of course the pair went on to record one of the best albums of 2008 in The Life Of A Song.

Before Can You Duet, though, Joey was indeed a solo singer. Before she married Rory, she was signed for a while to Sony Records, who dropped her without releasing any material, and in 2005 she recorded a solo album. It was originally released on the couple’s own Giantslayer Records; available as a digital download after Can You Duet was aired; and when Joey + Rory were signed to promote retailer Overstock, they cannily managed to persuade the store to stock the album in CD format.

I have just managed to get hold of a copy, and I’m not disappointed. The songs are not as good as those on the exceptional The Life Of A Song, but there is a pretty good selection, and overall this is a good album by one of the best female country singers to emerge in the last decade. Joey has one of those voices that could really only be country, with a distinctive timbre.

The album kicks off with a few bars from the classic ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You’, sung by Joey’s mother June Martin (who has a pretty good, slightly old-fashioned voice) accompanied by her father Jack. Further snippets from this recording are inserted between a few of the other tracks. Technically, the album starts with Joey inviting her parents to play the song, and ends with them all chatting and giggling in the studio. This was probably intended to underscore the charming home-made feel of the project, but comes across as a little self-indulgent, and by the second listen I was distinctly irritated. This aside, there is a strong family element to the record. Although Rory does not sing on it, the harmony singers include June Martin and Rory’s daughter Heidi, and even Rufus, the family dog, gets in on the act. Rory produces (with one Bill McDermott), and of course contributes his songwriting talent.

The best songs are the title track and ‘See You There’, which are the first (real) track and the penultimate one. ‘Strong Enough To Cry’ is an excellent song co-written by Rory with veteran songwriter Max D. Barnes, and showcases Joey’s excellent voice; this cut could easily be a hit single. ‘See You There’ is almost too personal, and may be too much for some, as it tells the story of the early death of Joey’s brother; some of the detail feels rather like trespassing on someone else’s private grief, and some of the rhymes feel a little too obvious, but the song has a real emotional impact. Joey and Rory wrote this song together, as they did ‘Nothing To Remember’, a charming song with a pretty tune and a good hook (“I’d rather have something to forget than nothing to remember”).

Joey’s voice is capable of lifting lesser material so that it sounds better than it actually is. Examples here are the slightly repetitive and rather mundane ‘That’s Important To Me’, where Joey’s obvious commitment to the song, which she co-wrote with Rory and Tim Johnson, does just that. Similarly, ‘Like A Rodeo’ offers an unremarkable metaphor for life with a gentle melody, but is really beautifully sung. Oddly, co-writer Paul Overstreet is prominently credited for harmony vocals on this (to the extent that I was expecting a full-scale duet before I heard the track), but is barely audible. Joey’s soaring vocal over an acoustic guitar backing also lifts ‘Southern Girl’, written by Rory with Tim Johnson, obviously for Indiana-born Joey as she declares herself the titular southern girl by adoption.

‘Red’ is a bit of a mixed bag of a song. Lyrically, it’s one of those songs about being country, but at least it’s not first-person, and it has a reasonable amount of specific detail. Musically it is urgent and uptempo, with barks from Rufus in the chorus (just few enough to be cute), and some rather dubious echo effects and whoo-ing I could have done without. It would probably go down well live, and I quite enjoyed it, though perhaps in a slightly guilty-pleasure way.

There are only a handful of songs not written by Rory on this release. The best of these is the engaging ‘The Cowboy’s Mine’ (from the pens of Tim Johnson and Jim McCormick). Lyrically, imagine a meld of ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man’, the opposite of ‘Cheater, Cheater’, and a postive prequel to ‘Last Call’, as the protagonist shows up at the bar to collect her man and pay off his bill. It has a delightfully old-fashioned feel. ‘When The Needle Hit The Vinyl’ offers a nice change of pace, but is more memorable for the crackling vinyl sound effect at the end than for the song itself. I liked the intense ballad ‘If Not For You’ (as close as Joey gets to AC rather than country) more the first time I heard it than I did on repeated listens.

Overall, if you like Joey + Rory’s The Life Of A Song, you’ll like this – but not as much.

Grade: B+ (2017 note: I think I would now call this an A-)

Thanks to Brody for helping me get hold of it.


17 responses to “Album Review: Joey Feek – ‘If Not For You’

  1. Claudia March 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Just ordered it. Thanks for letting me know it even existed. “The Life of a Song” is such a wonderful album. Best I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t know if there are many “radio-friendly” singles on it, though. I hope that won’t keep Joey + Rory from doing a second one.

  2. Moe March 18, 2009 at 11:48 am

    I just have to say that “Like A Rodeo” is not “lesser material.” I completely disagree that it is an “unremarkable metaphor.” There are many metaphors for life in music, I had never heard of the rodeo being one of those. I can definately relate to the song, and I agree with it completely.
    If you respect and appreciate Joey+Rory’s The Life of a Song, you’ll love Strong Enough to Cry.

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  4. Leeann Ward March 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    This album is also available on Emusic. I think you’re right that it’s good, but not quite up to par with the duo’s album. I had the same reaction to the song with Paul Overstreet. Where was he?

  5. CMW March 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Nice review, Hope. I agree with your assessment of the album. Incidentally, I picked it up on eMusic a few months before they were even on the show, so had this moment during the first episode when I thought “dang, she sounds familiar” and had to connect the dots that it was that Joey.

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  8. Sarah December 22, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    This album is amazing! If you love Joey and Rory you will not be disappointed. The songs are so personal, you can tell she really put her heart into it. Joey has the voice of an angel. I can’t get enough of this CD. LOVE IT!!

  9. Eva Mae Kirkpatrick January 12, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Sorry, but I don’t agree with your comments on See You There, Many,many songs deal with real-life tragic death of love one’s. Examples ,Last Kiss, Tell Laura I Love Her, OhDonna, Go Rest High On The Mountain Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, etc just to mention a few. Knowing that someone’s relative died and they are able to express , not only in words , but able to sing the song, is remarkable to me, and gives the song , that much more meaning.

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