Last updated: 10/27/2014 09:27:46 AM
In signing up for CMT’s singing competition Can You Duet in 2008, Rory Feek wanted one simple thing: for the world to know his wife Joey, and the power of her voice.
“My whole hope was: I'm going to get eliminated immediately, but they might hear her sing,” he says, now four years into a career as her Joey+Rory duo partner, and a decade into life as her proud husband.
The couple’s Duet showing far surpassed his expectations, Joey+Rory taking third place during the show’s first season and subsequently signing with Vanguard/Sugar Hill Records. Over two studio albums with Joey’s voice largely taking the lead—2008’s The Life of A Song, from which hit single “Cheater Cheater” was culled, and the 2010 follow-up Album Number Two—country fans have indeed come to know her crystalline belt. They’ve also come to know Joey+Rory as a couple, rooted in an 1870s Pottsville, Tennessee farmhouse, Rory writing songs and tinkering with old cars, Joey gardening or baking bread at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse, the local restaurant she owns with sister-in-law Marcy. But with the new His and Hers, out via Sugar Hill on July 31, listeners get fully acquainted with both Joey and Rory as individually arresting lead singers, Joey taking lead on half of the album’s tracks, Rory’s warm, approachable vocal helming the others.
“In all of our live shows, he’s always done half the singing and I do half,” Joey says. “So we just felt like that was the right direction to go with this album—let it really be more of what we are together, and fill it full of great songs.”
His and Hers, more than any prior Joey+Rory release, gracefully and thoroughly underlines what Joey and Rory are together, as a singing team, as songwriters, as family, as country artists and fans.
While its predecessors offered polished, powerful examples of Joey’s vocal prowess, Rory felt that listeners still hadn’t experienced the full spectrum of his wife’s voice. His and Hers producer/Grammy winner Gary Paczosa, Rory says, helped them bring listeners closer to the version of Joey’s voice that Rory knows best: the one that beams so distinctly and honestly in their home, in front of the kitchen hearth with their family.
“As great as we thought and a lot of people thought our first two records were, I would not hesitate to say, ‘You still don't know how good she sings; you should really come set at our table and listen to her with just a guitar,’” Rory says. “But with this record, I really feel like he took that part of her voice that feels so special and intimate in simple settings, and somehow captured it perfectly and made it even better. And that's a big deal.”
That sense of intimacy flows through many of the narratives captured on His and Hers, too.
“You’ll be alright, that first night…When I’m Gone”? Joey affirms in the mournful, lost-loved-one ballad that breaks and captures our hearts not only with songwriter Sandy Lawrence’s haunting lyrics but also Joey's pure emotion filled vocals. This style of song is not what we are used to hearing from Joey+Rory musically but it stands squarely in the middle of who they are…real, honest and madly in love, now and forever.
One of His and Hers’ most revealing turns comes right at its outset, in opener “Josephine,” an acoustically driving, five-plus-minute letter from a Civil War soldier, penned in heartrending detail by Rory, captured with Joey’s high harmonies wrapping around his vulnerable lead: “And lastly my darling, in case I should be killed, don’t grieve me too long,” Rory sings.
The song stands well outside country radio’s current tendencies, but it firmly embraces the classic country music tenets that Joey and Rory individually, though similarly, came up on: strong storytelling, rustic tones, emotion-forward singing. “Josephine” also pulls listeners right into Joey and Rory’s Tennessee home: The inspiration for the song—and most of its storyline—was pulled from a series of letters Rory stumbled on while researching the history of their Maury County farmhouse, penned by a soldier in 1861, for his wife, Josephine.
“In the letters, it was December, and he was in Kentucky and he was missing her,” Rory says of the letters. “It was the worst spelling, the worst grammar, but each letter was unbelievably poetic. It made a pretty strong impression on me, and not long after, the song showed up. It seemed to write itself, which is my favorite kind of song to write … It's a powerful love story, so I find myself still, after singing for years, very moved by it. And for us to have the chance to record that kind of song on our new album means a lot to us”.
Joey leads the lighthearted, foot-stomp-friendly “Let’s Pretend We Never Met,” a tune that highlights the fun and work that goes into a happy marriage; and “Love Your Man,” a propulsive—and, Joey says, from the heart—stand-by-your-man anthem that she and Rory co-wrote with their daughter Heidi Feek.
“There's gonna be hills and valleys in a marriage and relationships. We're all gonna have times that we’re be disappointed or discouraged, but you still have to love him through it,” Joey says. “I love that we're singing that—lifting up marriage at a time where a lot of people are bashing it.”
Rory funnels the playfulness he consistently shares with his wife in life and onstage into the boyish, thoroughly autobiographical “Someday When I Grow Up,” and offers insight into a life spent preparing for the love he shares with Joey in “Teaching Me How to Love You,” a gentle ballad he co-wrote with Marty Dodson.
“I’ve been singing that song a long time, and I always start it the same way: ‘I wrote this for my wife… I sang it for a few other girls before I met my wife, but I wrote it for my wife,’” Rory says. “And that's true, I wrote it before I met my wife, but it's clearly about her. It turned out that I still needed to live another verse or two.”
Rory wrote or co-wrote much of His and Hers (he’s earned well-documented songwriting success, logging multiple #1’s that he’s written, including Easton Corbin’s “Little More Country Than That” and Blake Shelton’s “Some Beach”). Other songs came from well-known Nashville scribes (Phil O’Donnel, Kent Blazy, Leslie Satcher), talented friends (Sandy Emory Lawrence, who wrote “When I’m Gone”) or country legends (Tom T. Hall’s “Your Man Loves You Honey”). All bear Joey’s one overriding requirement: “It has to be able to move us first, if it’s ever going to move other people… and it has to be honest and sincere.”
Every Friday night at 9 pm EST, fans and newcomers get the chance to know the songs from His and Hers’, the farmhouse and community they live in, and Joey+Rory in a real and personal way with the duo’s new weekly variety show, The Joey+Rory Show, on RFD-TV. Filmed entirely at their farm and in their community, its first 13 episodes mix live stage performances, recipes from their family-owned café Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse, behind-the-scenes looks into their life together, intimate acoustic performances from the duo and a select group of singers and songwriters that Joey+Rory believe the world needs to see and hear.
“We haven’t had a TV at our house for years, partly because it’s hard to find good family programs to watch anymore… so rather than just complain about it, we're trying to create some good programming everyone can enjoy,” Rory says. “The tv show is a lot like our new record… we’re trying to stay deeply rooted in tradition while still breaking new ground in music and television.”