No doubt, Mr. and Mrs. Feek are very busy people these days as they host their very own variety program TheJoey + Rory Show on RFD-TV, while also preparing to release their third studio album His and Hers on July 31. The first single from the project is the piano-driven ballad “When I’m Gone” – a narrator’s wistful meditation on her future death, as well as its effect on the one she holds dear.
While the piano accompaniment is a slight departure from the steel-heavy sounds Joey+Rory have typically favored, I’ll be darned if this song doesn’t bring out the absolute best in Joey Martin Feek as a vocalist. As usual, she smartly goes for subtlety over power, conveying the sorrowful tone of the lyric without wallowing in it, and turning in a performance of beautiful emotional connectivity. It’s a classic example of the unaffected down-home sincerity that has long marked Joey+Rory’s personas both on stage and off.
The lyric follow’s the narrator’s spouse through the grieving journey. “The bright sunrise will contradict the heavy fall that weighs you down/ In spite of all the funeral songs, the birds will sing their joyous song/ You’ll wonder why the earth still moves…” Joey sings in a verse that sounds vaguely reminiscent of Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World.” The next verse depicts the bereaved one’s first night alone, showing a few shades of Reba’s “For My Broken Heart.” The lyric makes no attempt to downplay the depth of grief, but offers a hint of positivity toward the end as Joey concludes that ultimately, life will go on – “And even though you loved me still, you will know where you belong/ Just give it time, we’ll both be fine when I’m gone.” The song follows a structured narrative that is straightforward, well laid out, and most importantly, true to life.
At this point, country radio has clearly demonstrated no interest in Joey+Rory’s music, which is too bad for country radio listeners. But if the Feeks are able to build a respectable career as album artists, hopefully bolstered by exposure from their television program, there may be little reason to complain. The main thing is that, if “When I’m Gone” is any indication, Joey+Rory still have plenty of excellent music left in them. Bring on that new album.
There is no sophomore slump for husband-wife duo, Joey+Rory, though the album’s title song displays a tongue in cheek awareness that doesn’t take the possibility for granted. As it was with their first album, their second album is a hybrid of sounds in true, producer, Carl Jackson fashion. A mix of hard core country, bluegrass, folk, acoustic and even contemporary touches are all present, woven together to form a sonically crisp and organic feel. The main difference between the two albums is that Rory takes the lead once in awhile on this album, which was Joey’s sole responsibility last time out.
By now, we are all aware of Joey Martin’s and Rory Feek’s genuine love for each other. We see it in their public interactions and we hear it in their songs. As they share singing duties on “Born to Be Your Woman”, we hear a sweet love declaration between a husband and wife. They also express the value that they place on their relationship on the gentle, “That’s Important to me.”
Their love clearly doesn’t only exist in cerebral form, however, as they seem equally connected when they let loose and show their sense of humor as is evident in the title track, “God Help My Man”, “Baby, I’ll Come Back to You”, and “You Ain’t Right”.
“God Help My Man” starts out sounding as if it’s going to be another pretty love song, but we soon learn that Joey has no qualms about laying down the gauntlet when necessary, as she quietly, but bitingly, warns: “God Help my man if he’s fooling around/If he’s fooling around with some hussy he knows/While I’m rocking his babies and washing his clothes/If he thinks he can come home and climb into my bed/He’s got a fryin’ pan comin’ upside of his head.”
Also along the humorous track, the duo gives us one of the cleverest name dropping songs that there is. “Baby, I’ll Come Back to You” not only checks many country music names, but humorously references aspects of country artists that only country music fans might find amusing: “Now, I’m not sayin’ there’s no chance at all/But it don’t take no crystal ball/To see the chance is mighty slim,/Chris Gaines or me are comin’ back again.”
The album isn’t just love and games, however, as some of its most meaningful moments are quietly and effectively captured in the touching story song of “The Horse Nobody Could Ride”, the spiritual “Where Jesus Is”, and Rory’s intimate tribute to his father in the piano driven “My Ol’ Man that depicts a tough, but selfless and supportive father.
Measuring and identifying sincerity and authenticity is ultimately a subjective exercise, but if it’s ever at all tangible, Joey and Rory are the people who seem to effortlessly exude the traits in both life and song. As simply stated in “That’s Important to Me”, they explain: “Believing our dreams will take us somewhere/Still being ourselves if we ever get there/That’s important to me.”
September has a lot of album releases that I’m really enjoying or looking forward to. In fact, it’s the most lucrative month for music for my taste in quite some time.
Last Tuesday (September 7), Rounder Records released The SteelDrivers’ second album, Reckless (which is pretty spectacular, by the way) and this week, they will be releasing Robert Plant’s follow up to his 2007 collaborative album with Alison Krauss, also on Rounder. From the streaming preview that can be heard on NPR’s website until release day, the album is a wonderfully rootsy project helmed by Plant and Buddy Miller and includes guitar work from Darrell Scott. October will also finally see the release of Joe Diffie’s bluegrass album on the label.
When one learns that an album will be released through Rounder Records (which has recently been sold to Concord Music Group), it’s pretty much automatically expected that the project will be quality. Whether it’s The SteelDrivers, Robert Plant, Joe Diffie, John Mellancamp, Alison Krauss or Willie Nelson, it’s reasonable to assume certain aspects of a Rounder release, including that the album may even stray from a typical artist release to be more rootsy in approach, as is the case with the recent Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp albums, along with the upcoming Diffie project. More often than not, I can count on Rounder Records to please my musical sensibilities, even with unexpected artists, since I never expected that Robert Plant would be recording some of my favorite roots music.
As much as I love and count on Rounder Records to produce great music, my absolute favorite record company is Sugar Hill Records (owned by Vanguard Records). Incidentally, Joey+Rory will be releasing their anticipated second album through Sugar Hill on Tuesday (September 14). Additionally, Marty Stuart’s recent release, the excellent Ghost Train, was released through them as well. Other artist who have been associated with Sugar Hill include, but are not limited to: Nickel Creek, Ricky Skaggs, Guy Clark, Dolly Parton, Darrell Scott, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, The Duhks, Sarah Jarosz, and the list goes on. As with Rounder Records, many artists seem to release albums with Sugar Hill as a deviation from the music for which they are most popularly associated, as is the case with Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, and even Rodney Crowell, who released his venerable The Houston Kid on the label.
Right now, it seems that my favorite record labels aren’t in the business of releasing music that we hear on mainstream country radio, though Joey+Rory are attempting to crack through. While I don’t have the inside knowledge to say that it doesn’t exist, we don’t hear about the red tape and politics that is ever present with major companies like, lets say, the infamous Curb Records, which has produced some rather publicly disgruntled artists, most notably Tim McGraw and the two Living Hank Williamses.
But when I was a kid, MCA Records was the label that seemed like the powerhouse record company for country music to me. Some of my favorite artists were on that label, including Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Reba McEntire and, of course, Vince Gill. I admired the country roster of Arista as well, which included Alan Jackson, Diamond Rio, Radney Foster, and Blackhawk.
Along with reminding you about some good releases that have recently been released and will soon be available, this is the very long and self-indulgent way of getting to the question of:
What is the record label that you most admire and can count on to release your favorite music?
I’ve written it before, but full disclosure requires me to reiterate my biased stance toward Joey+Rory. Their debut album with Sugar Hill Records was organic and delightful. They were my first and only (so far) interview for Country Universe.
Anyone who is aware of the down-to-earth couple can instinctively assume that they were genuine and gracious and made the experience one of the highlights of my Country Universe tenure. Therefore, I will not feign detachment regarding the trajectory of their career. I simply want them to succeed and I make no apology for my steadfast position on the matter.
With that said, Joey+Rory’s new single, “This Song’s for You” oozes with sincerity. Joey and Rory trade stanzas, which is a change from the first project. Additionally, Zac Brown is featured on the bridge. The song covers a lot of ground, but it pays tribute to just about all of the various walks of life that likely attend their shows while not shying away from making succinct social statements: “If it’s takin’ all you’ve got these days just to make ends meet / And you’d like to give a piece of your mind to those fat cats on Wall Street, this song’s for you…If you wish we didn’t have to go and send our boys to war / But you still think this country of ours is still worth dyin’ for, this song’s for you.”
The reality is, however, that a song like this, one that serves the purpose of pleasing a crowd of diverse people in just a few stanzas, is a touchy balance to strike. It doesn’t always work, especially when it’s perceived as pandering instead of authenticity. Of course, perceived authenticity is a matter of subjectivity. Perhaps it’s my bias, perhaps it’s tangible sincerity, but it seems that Joey+Rory, with a close call, somehow strikes just the magic balance.
Furthermore, as is blessedly the case with all Joey+Rory music, the production is both modern and tasteful, devoid of overblown electric guitar solos. Heck, within the admittedly contemporary production (which we didn’t hear as much on their debut album), we can still hear fiddle, mandolin, and (gasp!) steel guitar, which is something they speak to in the final verse: “Now, if you love country music as real as it comes, this song’s for you / And if you came here tonight hoping you might hear you some, this song’s for you / If you paid your hard earned money to that bouncer at the door / To hear the kind of songs you don’t get to hear much anymore, this song’s for you.”