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Joey + Rory

The Life of a Song

(Sugar Hill; US: 28 Oct 2008; UK: 27 Oct 2008)

If Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were actual human beings instead of amazingly lifelike wax figurines, chances are they’d be Joey + Rory.  And unless you were one of the seven people who watched CMT’s reality competition Can You Duet (Joey + Rory were the runners-up), you probably recognize this husband and wife team from their supercute Overstock commercials.


On their first album, The Life of a Song, Joey Martin (the gal) and Rory Lee Feek (the guy) amp up their cuteness to 11.  It would be disgustingly saccharine if it weren’t, well, so supercute.  Feek, a songwriter whose material has been recorded by Blake Shelton (“Some Beach”), Collin Raye (“Someone You Used to Know”), and others, generally remains in the background, letting his wife do the vocal heavy lifting while he lets his pen do the talking and chimes in on sweet harmonies.


The record begins with “Play the Song”, a no-holds-barred number aimed squarely at country radio: “Man, it’s a shame / Instead of playing the game / Play the song”.  This is the first sign that Martin and Feek aren’t your typical commercial country singers.  In a time where the songs that get radio play sound more like watered down rock, Joey + Rory hearken back to classic honkytonk on “Play the Song”, complete with barroom piano in the background.


Up next is “Sweet Emmylou”, a lovely little number all about the heartbreak-curing potential of a good song.  It would make a fantastic single… if the average pop-country music listener had an inkling as to who sweet Emmylou was, considering she hasn’t been played on commercial country radio for 20-some years. 


“Cheater Cheater”, Joey + Rory’s first single, is one of the album’s strongest songs.  It’s certainly the catchiest.  Perhaps a companion piece to fellow reality star Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”, this rafter-rattler has Martin unleashing some double-barreled sass at the one who done her wrong: “Liar, liar did you buy her whiskey all night long / Did you hide your ring in the pocket of your jeans / Or did you just keep it on? / When the deed was done and you’d had your fun / Did you think I wouldn’t know?”.  Infectious, memorable, and radio-friendly, “Cheater Cheater” is a label exec’s wet dream.  More importantly, it might just be the first country song whose lyrics contain the word “ho”.  It sure isn’t what Kitty Wells would sing, but damn if doesn’t get the job done.


Unfortunately, some songs sink under the weight of sap.  “Loved the Hell” is a story song in which a man is saved from eternal damnation by the love of a good church-going woman.  Now, this isn’t a bad subject for a song, but the problem is that it’s far too similar to those songs popular in the mid-‘90s in which a Phrase of Great Import reappears throughout the life of the song’s protagonist with a different and unsubtle meaning each time (see also Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” and Mark Wills’s “Wish You Were Here”).  In this case, naturally, the Phrase of Great Import is “I just loved the Hell out of him”.  Do you get the many varied meanings?  DO YOU?!  Come on, Joey + Rory, you’re better than this.  Save the glurge for Martina “Captain Obvious” McBride and stick with the uptempo neotraditional country that you do best.


Wholesome, attractive, slickly produced, and just dang adorable, Joey + Rory seem poised for commercial success.  Despite their affiliation with reality television—the bane of good music everywhere—this duo has produced a solid debut, while their affiliation with roots label Sugar Hill and their unfaked, overall-wearin’ folksiness may just garner them fans on the hipper-than-thou alt-country side of the aisle.

Rating:

Juli Thanki is a graduate student studying trauma and memory in the postbellum South. She tries to live her life by the adage "What Would Dolly Parton Do?" but has yet to build an eponymous theme park, undergo obscene amounts of plastic surgery, or duet with Porter Wagoner (that last one might prove a little difficult, but nevertheless she perseveres). When not writing for PopMatters, Juli can generally be found playing the banjo incompetently, consuming copious amounts of coffee, and tanning in the blue glow of her laptop.


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