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Backing a "Cheater" works for Joey + Rory

By John Lupton, November 2008

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She pauses a moment to laugh and continues, "A few songs later he introduced his daughters that were with him that night, and I was pretty bummed out. I said to myself, 'All the good ones are gone' because I just assumed he was married because he had his little girls with him that night. I just remembered everything about him, from what he wore and what he sang about, and his name. He wore overalls...and that was kind of his signature trademark. A couple of years went by, and I went to another songwriter's night...and found out he was playing. I just had to go to see if all those feelings that I had before still existed. By this time, I knew that he wasn't married, that he moved to Nashville with his two girls...and he raised them all by himself, and that just spoke to me at such a deeper level and made me fall in love with him more, knowing that."

Now married more than six years, the CMT show came as something of an unexpected bonus for them, Martin says. "We never really thought about us being a duo, I continued to try to go on and be a solo artist. We recorded an independent record ("Strong Enough To Cry") on myself, Rory produced it and wrote for it. That never really came out in stores, nothing with radio. Now, here we are, and the TV show came about, and we ended up getting a record deal after that and have an album out and a single on the radio. It's hard to believe."

The relationship with independent Sugar Hill, a recent transplant to Nashville from North Carolina after a quarter-century as a primarily bluegrass label, seems to be a good fit. Having previously expressed disdain for what he terms the "beauty contest" in the town, Feek's not backing down.

"I don't think (that's) any less true today than it was (when I first came), except that I don't think all the majors control all the cards anymore. I think that there are people and companies and opportunities being created for people to slip in from all different ways. I think it's just a shame that it's that way. We know that here in Nashville there are tons of people that are the best songwriters and also fabulous emoters of songs, fabulous singers who aren't the most beautiful, but they're real, and they're authentic, and yet they're overlooked every day. And I think it's a tragedy."

"The Life of a Song" is replete with the sort of hard-edged traditional country fare, leavened by Martin's rich, sweet voice, that won raves on "Can You Duet?" "Heart of the Wood" tells the story of building a family home from the trees in the front yard. "Play the Song" expresses Feek's "frustration" at the Music Row "assembly line" approach, and he laughs as he recalls that when he first turned the song in to his publisher, "you could hear crickets." The disc includes their rendition of "Free Bird," which Martin says evolved from her audition for a movie part she didn't get, but when they hit CMT turned judge Naomi Judd into a mentor and fan.

The centerpiece though, of course, is the single, "Cheater Cheater" for which both Martin and Feek share writer credits with Kristy Osmunson and Wynn Varble. Where Dolly Parton's "Jolene" is about begging the other woman to go away, Feek says this song is the real world, where the woman wronged tells them both to take a hike.

"The majority of how I like to write a song is sort of from a first line, not knowing necessarily what the title's gonna be, and definitely not knowing where the song's gonna go or what the story's gonna say - letting the song tell us. And (this) was one of those, just 'Cheater, cheater, where'd you meet her? Down at Ernie's Bar', and the story was unfolding. "

Referring to the tune's killer "hook" lyric, Feek wryly acknowledges the song is "not politically correct." "When that song told us, 'Did you think I wouldn't know? Where'd you meet that no-good white trash ho'?', I was laughing just like everybody else, I was knocked out...I brought it home to Joey, and I thought it was hilarious. She didn't think it was hilarious, she thought it was a smash. It's what everyone's thinking. It's what every girl would say. Even Joey, she's very strong in her faith, in her marriage, in her morals and everything else, but she's human and she gets riled up, and that's what she would say in that moment, and I think that's why people are reacting to it. We were doing a show in Sacramento three nights ago, and it was absolute insanity, people were screaming it back to us, huge clubs filled with people, and it was the first time we had experienced it. But Joey had already known it from the first time she heard it in the house here, she knew that was gonna happen."

Success, Feek concludes, is a heck of a lot of fun. "We're not kidding when we say we're in awe of it all, especially to be together as a husband and wife, that's a pretty extraordinary opportunity, and we're having a great time, and we're getting a chance to go out and promote music that we believe in."

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