Prime Cuts: When I'm Gone, It is Well with My Soul, Softly and Tenderly
Hymns are like the little waves in our sea of turmoil and woe. They may sound feebly pleonastic, but they have a way of moving us slowly and innocuously closer and closer to the Rock of Ages with each listen. Over the rummage of time, countless saints of God have been comforted, loved, and strengthened via these ancient hymns. Moreover, many of these ancient sonic gems were not written in the comforts of an air-conditional studio quipped with instant coffee machines and modern computerized gadgets. Rather, they were birthed out of the pangs of the arduous labor of sufferings, persecution, and bloodshed for the sake of the Gospel. Thus, it's not surprising that Joey + Rory would close their careers with a hymns collection as their swan song. The hymns with their poetically textured words give vocabulary to God's greatest truths in ways that are palatable, memorable, and therapeutic for the soul.
Joey + Rory Feek first appeared as a duo after they appeared at CMT's Can You Duet? Together, the husband and wife team have released 6 studio albums. Though most of their recorded oeuvre fall under the "country music" tag, they have often included Gospel and inspirational tunes in their albums. Moreover, in 2013, they have released "Inspired: Song of Family and Faith." Nevertheless, "Hymns That Are Important to Us" is their first foray into the Christian hymnal. And the genesis of the record came about when Joey had been suffering from the last stages of terminal cancer. Many of these cuts were recorded in hotel rooms and at their various homes in-between Joey's chemo treatments and her countless visits to the hospitals.
Rory and co-producer Joe West must be applauded for doing an excellent job in making these recordings sound cohesive and never jejune. If you had not known about Joey's condition, you would not have guessed that the vocals come from a thing and frail lady who is at the throes of death. Together with a chorus of children, Joey sounds like she was in the pink of health when she delivers "Jesus Loves Me" with her western cowgirl verve. Similarly, the Southern Gospel favorite, "I'll Fly Away," receives a bluegrass kick from Joey. She showcases her crystalline voice on Will Thompson's "Softly and Tenderly," taking her time to nuance the different shades of emotions that we first feel when we first hear the call of Jesus Christ to come home.
Keeping the backings understatedly warm with a down home country flavour thanks to the use of fiddling, "It is Well With My Soul" sounds more like Joey's testimony than the average hymn. Fans may do well to make the drive to Cracker Barrel to purchase the deluxe version of this CD as it contains the bonus track "When I'm Gone." First recorded by the couple for their "His and Hers" album in 2012, Rory has fought for this song to be included. In the light of Joey's illness, the reason becomes apparent with one listen. "When I'M Gone" is Joey's parting words to Rory on how he should continue to soldier on after her death. Words such as "You'll lie down in our big bed/Dread the dark and dread the dawn/But you'll be alright on that first night when I'm gone" are just spine chilling and tears inducing stuff. This album is not just important to the Feeks, but they are important to us too.