Album Review: Rory Feek - "Gentle Man"

There are few debut albums that get straight to the heart and speak about who an artist is as much as "Gentle Man" does.

Early on in my career in Nashville, I met a couple who showed me what real hospitality was like. They invited me to into their home, their restaurant down the road and, when one had to leave for a writing appointment, their lovely neighbors and friends in one of the best days I’ve ever had as a music industry journalist. That couple was Joey & Rory, the husband and wife duo who sprang from Can You Duet and showed the world what true love looked like. Over the years, we’d always say a friendly hello when our paths crossed and I was always an advocate for two of the purest souls anyone could meet. I was saddened when we lost one of the world’s brightest lights, Joey, to cancer but through all of their journey, Rory told the extraordinary, honest tale of their path, life and love (including their three lovely daughters) and that’s a journey he’s continuing now, 13 years after their debut as a duo, with Gentle Man, Rory’s first ever solo record.

Packed with great songs (some he wrote, many he didn’t) and a cavalcade of guest vocalists and musicians, Rory’s still living his musical life as a duet partner (he always will with his lovely bride guiding him from heaven) and we’re all for the better for this massive talent is taking that courage Joey gifted him and continuing to share his musical artistry with the world.

Gentle Man starts off with “Me And The Blues” and features Vince Gill on harmony vocals and the conversational vocal style Rory’s always been blessed with is front and center on this beautifully-written song about a lovelorn man (or, really, whatever you want it to be about). Vince is the best harmony singer on the planet so it’s not surprising that he provides much harmonic depth to the wonderful arrangement. “Salvation” is a song I first heard about 20 years ago when John Berry recorded the track on his Wildest Dreams album. Written by Gary Burr, “Salvation” is but one of two of my all-time favorite tracks from two of country’s best, purest vocalists (John Berry and Collin Raye) and the second song, “The Time Machine,” also appears here (this one was featured originally on Collin Raye's . These solo-written Gary Burr songs suit Rory Feek’s voice and the best part is the songs, while the same in story and general melody, are acoustic melodic arrangements which bring two of the best songs of the 90s back to life.

Another of my favorite writers is Tom Douglas and he co-wrote the title track with one of Joey Martin Feek’s favorites, Sandy Lawrence. It’s another standout story song with interesting and distinctive lyrics and the harmonies from Sonya Isaacs and Ronnie Bowman (who are featured on many songs here) are just right. Lawrence also co-wrote “One Angel,” a song obviously written about Rory and Joey’s life as cancer took over. It’s lovely beautiful and features Dolly Parton in a duet with Rory. It’s a special moment and these songs all speak to who Rory is and what this record is. It’s a record of songs from Rory’s favorite writers, some of Joey’s, and a lot of their friends and heroes. This is a record that warms my heart that he’s both making music again and that he continues to shine a light on others, much in the way that Joey shined a light on him.