Anyone who has followed country duo Joey + Rory can’t help but feel affected and saddened by the passing of Joey from cancer. Though her death was inevitable, the heartbreaking story would make the hardest of hearts feel empathy. Before her death, Joey recorded one final album with her husband Rory, Hymns (That Are Important To Us). The album is just that – a collection comprised of traditional/popular hymns recorded prior to the Joey’s debilitating disease breaking down her body. Is this a fitting final chapter? You bet!
Opener “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” is simple, lacking in frills. Even so, it’s beautiful and the subtlety of Joey + Rory’s performance is appreciated. The traditional, purist vibe continues on “I Surrender All.” Interesting is that the hymn is treated rhythmically, hence propelling it beyond its traditional treatment as a slower ballad. Even with a slightly quicker pace, this is still very true to the original, irreplaceable reverence of the hymn.
“He Touched Me” arrives timely, slackening the pace and finding the duo predictably, though masterfully tackling the Gaither southern gospel classic. This is a perfect fit, particularly for Joey’s lead because it naturally has country stylistic cues. “Softly And Tenderly” proceeds effortlessly, lacking complexity yet not requiring it at the same time. It won’t reinvent country or gospel, but definitely appeals and “breathes” on the listener.
“Jesus Loves Me” does the unexpected – a savvy mood by the duo. Though it opens with children singing the childhood hymn, it progresses into a rollicking interpretation of the oft-performed song. If nothing else, the music itself – guitar, fiddle, and banjo – are spectacular. One of the most beautiful hymns – “It Is Well With My Soul” – receives chilling treatment from Joey + Rory. The harmonies arrive right on the mark, no questions asked.
The prominence of the upright bass on “The Old Rugged Cross” is a thoughtful production touch, firmly establishing the meter and old school, southern gospel and country sound. This is clearly ‘classic’ in sentiment. “I Need Thee Every Hour” maintains pulse with little use of ritardando (gradual slowing) or fermata, but the straightforwardness works. Much like Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories albums, uncomplicatedness isn’t a drawback, even if it doesn’t establish an innovative tour de force.
Ballads are where the ‘bread is buttered,’ proven once more by the beloved “How Great Thou Art.” “I’ll Fly Away” could use a smidgen more oomph, but it’s as sound as the majority if less appealing than the more heartfelt sounds captured via the ballads. Speaking of ballads, “Jesus Paid It All” and “Suppertime” return to reverence, while it tough not to shed a tear listening to touching closer “When I’m Gone,” arguably the best moment of Hymns.
How does Hymns rank all in all? Overall, it’s a well-rounded, enjoyable country-gospel album. This album isn’t innovative nor is it blasé – it’s respectable and should easily please its fan base. The biggest criticism is arguably the absence of risk taking, but that doesn’t seem to be M.O. with this particularly effort by any means. As it is, it is beautiful and a fitting final effort from the now deceased Joey.
Favorites: “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” “He Touched Me,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “It Is Well With My Soul” and “When I’m Gone”
Joey + Rory • Hymns • Farmhouse Recordings • Release Date: 2.12.16