It’s always risky covering a classic and Joey + Rory do plenty on “Free Bird” to reinvent Lynyrd Skynyrd’s epic southern rock masterpiece. Opening with a lonely acoustic guitar as a resonator jumps in on the root note, the husband and wife duo transform Skynyrd’s soaring work of bittersweet freedom into a slow burning honky tonk of necessity and remorse. Joey Martin Feek’s voice is gorgeously heartbroken and emotional as she sings, “If I leave here tomorrow, would you remember me?” And when husband Rory Lee Feek joins her in harmony to sing, “If I stayed here with you love,” the distance between two separate notes flowing through the same melody is artistically and poignantly apparent.
But as the song builds toward the end of the second refrain (the boiling over point in the original work), Joey + Rory’s cover just doesn’t manage to do the piece justice. Here, a short resonator guitar solo generically slides along before a pedal steel guitar takes its mandatory turn. And all the while, we’re waiting to hear some reference to Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington’s timeless slide guitar theme or fellow guitar slinger Allen Collins’ masterful electric guitar orchestration that bursts open halfway through the original. Yet, there is no allusion to the original – not even just a few notes as a ‘fun’ reminder of the original.
Covering a classic is risky business, no doubt. Joey + Rory divide the title of the song in two (“Free Bird” instead of “Freebird”), they switch the time signature from 4/4 to the more traditionally country ¾ time, and they even gracefully alter a few notes in the chorus’ melody quite nicely. However, the distance Joey + Rory place between themselves and the original work ultimately clip their version's wings.