Joey + Rory – “Freebird”

Juli Thanki | February 25th, 2009

Joey + Rory - Freebird Editor’s Note: “Freebird” was originally slated as Joey + Rory’s second single. It appears as though “Play the Song” will be released instead. This review was written prior to, and does not reflect, that change.

Despite a reality show past and ill-advised choices in punctuation, Joey + Rory have been a breath of fresh air for commercial country music–which makes the choice of “Freebird” as their next single puzzling at best and momentum-killing at worst. Let’s face it: the Skynyrd classic has been relegated to pop culture joke status, something jackasses request at concerts no matter the performer. When Joey Martin and Rory Lee Feek performed the song as a ballad on CMT’s Can You Duet, it made Naomi Judd wipe away tears as she begged the two to “never change.” I cried too, but for far different reasons.

“Freebird” is a bad cover in all the worst ways, from Joey Martin’s plodding delivery—as though a 45 was played at 33 RPM—to the soulless arrangement that, if you were listening to this on your daily commute, would make you want to drive off a bridge.

The most memorable element of the original is the way that it transforms from poignant piano ballad to facemelting triple guitar Southern rock song. Joey + Rory don’t even attempt to inject a similar amount of energy, passion, or uniqueness into their version, and the resulting sound is something that might play on your town’s soft rock radio station in between Celine Dion and Bryan Adams.

As anyone who has listened to The Life of a Song or watched the couple perform on Can You Duet can attest, Joey + Rory are a knockout combination of talent and charisma. But “Freebird” is a step in the wrong direction, especially after “Cheater Cheater” failed to garner a significant amount of radio airplay and hasn’t risen above #30 on the charts. If Sugar Hill doesn’t wise up a bit when it comes to releasing singles, Joey + Rory may be soon relegated to the cutout bin along with most of the other reality television musicians not named Carrie Underwood.

Thumbs Down

  1. dave
    February 25, 2009 at 9:19 am

    you’re ridiculous, this is a great cover that is incredibly original!

  2. Joe Boggs
    February 25, 2009 at 9:21 am


  3. JuniorDimas
    February 25, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I’d hope there’d be a streaming link on here… lemme go find it on I love bad reviews, it’s like a train wreck, can’t help it but look.

  4. JuniorDimas
    February 25, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Caught it on youtube. It kept to the same overall tone (some might call that unoriginal), but I agree that it was a bit too slow! Probably a bad selection as their next one, which might explain why they changed their next single choice.

  5. Chris N.
    February 25, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I hear what you’re saying, but you’re completely wrong.

  6. JD
    February 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Does anyone else think that releasing “Freebird” as a single and then yanking it was a calculated move to set up “Play the Song”?

    Can’t think of any other reason to release this lame version of Freebird…

  7. Sam G.
    February 25, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Does Sugar Hill even care about radio play, though? I mean, their operating costs are probably a lot easier to swallow than big label folks, so they may not need a massive smash hit to make the CD (and Joey + Rory) profitable. Plus, they probably don’t have the same payola budget the big boys do.

    With that in mind, Freebird as a single would make sense (or would have, given the single switcharoo), as a cover of a classic song might garner some plays as a novelty and gain them a little more exposure than a new song would.

  8. Paula_W
    February 25, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I think if they can get “Play The Song” heard at all, the song itself will get them some attention and some “love” from the country fans who are tired of the “politics” of radio airplay right now. At least I hope so! :-)

  9. Matt B.
    February 25, 2009 at 10:46 am

    “The Life Of A Song” is over 100,000 copies sold this week making it an amazing success for Sugar Hill Records. It’s one of their best selling albums in a long time. Joey+Rory don’t have to worry about the cut out bin.

  10. Rick
    February 25, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Sugar Hill’s artists are typically Americana format types, so dealing with Top 40 mainstream country radio is not their forte. I do hope they are indeed deep sixing “Free Bird” as a single as it would be a disaster due primarily to the plodding pace. My vote still stands for “Boots” as the next single, which is a great song whether the meathead programmers at Top 40 country radio would play it or not.

    On the country singles topic, Sarah Buxton’s “Space” stalled at # 38 then got yanked, so I don’t know if Lyric Street will release another one from Sarah. I also haven’t heard anything about another single release coming from Ashton Shepherd, which isn’t good. Whatever happened to Crystal Shawanda’s version of “My Roots Are Showing”? Has Crystal become a “one hot wonder” even though “You Can Let Go” wasn’t a big hit? Jessica Andrew’s “Everything is stuck in the high 40’s, so it appears her comeback isn’t doing as well as Carolwood hoped. Crikey.

  11. JD
    February 25, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Scenario #2

    Can Sugar Hill be dumb enough to think that releasing Freebird on the heels of Skynyrd pianist Billy Powell’s death would boost airplay?

  12. Drew
    February 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I really hope they don’t just vanish from the radio after this, they have way too much talent, particularly Joey, who has one of the best voices in country right now. But like you said, Sugar Hill Records needs to get their act together and release the right stuff.

  13. Jenna Vercher
    February 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Am I the only one who likes this song?

  14. CMW
    February 25, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Nope. I like this version of it too, Jenna. But I do agree that it probably would have been an unwise single choice.

  15. Occasional Hope
    February 25, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I like it too, and prefer the slower tempo to the original which is all about showing off the guitar playing, wheras this version has emotional resonance. I was thinking they were taking the smae tack they did with Cheater, Cheater – songs they did on Can You Duet, which gives an immediate familiarity.
    I’m not sure radio will like Play The Song any better – it might be a bt too close to home, although I certainly hope it does well for them.

  16. Karlie
    February 25, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Jenna, I’ll agree with you too. But CMW is right, with all the great material on the album (“Sweet Emmylou,” “Tune of a Twenty Dollar Bill,” “Rodeo”) I’d hope for a different single too.

  17. Dan Milliken
    February 25, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    “Despite a reality show past and ill-advised choices in punctuation.”

    That made me smile. And I appreciate that you didn’t sugarcoat your opinion of the record just because you like J+R. Then again, I happen to be in the same boat (liking them but disliking this cover), so I guess I’m a little biased. :)

    But yeah, I’m glad they’re going with “Play the Song” instead. Much, much better choice. They don’t need the “Free Bird” gimmick to show people how awesome they are. And count me among those rooting for a “Sweet Emmylou” release at some point, too.

  18. Chris N.
    February 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I feel like I just entered a parallel universe. This is the one incredibly obvious single on the album.

    It has listener recognition, novelty value, sentimental value (due to Powell’s passing) and it was on all the “Can You Duet” commercials so people are already familiar with it a little. “Play the Song,” on the other hand, is too inside. It’s a song about songwriting.

  19. Jim Malec
    February 25, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    I think this is a gorgeous cover, but it would have been a disastrous single from a radio standpoint. I think this would have been the slowest song released to radio this decade.

    Can someone talk me down on that?

    Following up to Chris, who posted at the same time–yeah, you’re right…but there’s no way in hell today’s radio is going to play something this slow. It just ain’t gonna happen. I would bet most PDs would flat-out refuse.

  20. Dan Milliken
    February 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I just listened again and enjoyed it more than I remembered having done a few months ago, but I do think this would give me some serious highway hypnosis.

    ““Play the Song,” on the other hand, is too inside. It’s a song about songwriting.”

    So was Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song,” but that didn’t stop people from latching onto the hook and (probably) allowing it to speak in some way to their own experience. I think “Play the Song” will appeal in the same way to people who think fun things are sometimes overthought. A strong enough hook can cross lots of logical boundaries.

  21. Leeann Ward
    February 25, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I like this cover too, though I’ve never been married to the original version in the first place. I do think “Play the Song” has a better chance on radio though for the reasons Dan cited. Rick, I think “Boots” is kinda a dumb song.:) It’s fun the first time around, but the appeal doesn’t stick with me.

  22. Rick
    February 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Leeann, I think this is my first “Rick Boot-Smack” at The 9513! Probably won’t be my last though…(lol) The musical structure of a song is far more important to me than the lyrics, and I just love the sound of “Boots”. The lyrics aren’t deep or meaningful by any means, but that would actually work in its favor as a single on AirHead Country Radio these days!

    (PS – I meant to call Crystal Shawanda a “One Hit Wonder”, not a “One Hot Wonder”. Sheesh….)

  23. Matt C.
    February 25, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Chris N., I hear what you’re saying, but you’re completely wrong.

  24. idlewildsouth
    February 25, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Jim, I dont know how well the song would have done at radio, but there was another waltz released a while back that im sure was questionable…but its the only real reason we still know Deana Carters name.

    Personally, im a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan and love the original, but I also love this version. I think its good because so many bands have covered this song live, but who has made it a waltz?

  25. Jim Malec
    February 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    At least “Strawberry Wine” has a peppy chorus.
    Not to mention, I said “this decade.” ;-)

  26. idlewildsouth
    February 25, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    This is true, the chorus is much peppier. I was merely trying to demonstrate that I knew there had been some doubts at the time of its release as to how good itd do, but despite that it did quite well. Its certainly the slowest this decade I can recall by far.

  27. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Does anyone opining about radio strategy here have any actual experience with or insight into country radio promotion? Anyone heard of secondary and tertiary markets, or looked at the experience of labels like Sugar Hill in working them? Just curious.

    Nice to see someone finally pointed out that the Joey+Rory version of “Freebird” isn’t really any slower than the original, but rather in a different time signature. I was starting to wonder…

  28. Chris N.
    February 25, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    “…there’s no way in hell today’s radio is going to play something this slow.”

    How about something like “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn? Listening to that was like watching a snail chase a turtle, yet it was a big hit.

    “Love Song” isn’t about songwriting, it’s about romantic reticence; it uses songwriting as an easily understandable narrative framing device. “Play the Song” is literally about radio genre classifications. A line like “The hook’s too weak or the subject matter’s way too strong” just makes me cringe. I was the same way about “Murder on Music Row” — it has a line about mixing, for pity’s sake.

  29. Jim Malec
    February 25, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Believe had the redeeming factor that it was by a major artist.

  30. Chris D.
    February 25, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    I also love this song, one of my favorites off the CD, but I’m just echoing the same opinions as everyone else… I love “Play The Song” though. Nice, reference to “Love Song”, Dan, it’s a very good connection to make.

  31. Nicolas
    February 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    I thought it was well-done, but I don’t think it would’ve made a good single at all

    Glad that it’s changed to “Play the Song”

    @Rick: Crystal Shawanda’s got her fourth single out now, “Dawn of a New Day”

  32. Dan Milliken
    February 25, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    “Love Song” isn’t about songwriting, it’s about romantic reticence; it uses songwriting as an easily understandable narrative framing device.

    I think the particular sort of lashing out in the verses makes a bit more sense directed toward a record company than a romantic partner, so I do think it’s literally about songwriting. Point taken, though – she left it ambiguous enough for people to take it either way, and “Play the Song” is more specific.

    That said, I still don’t think it’ll matter much to a lot of people. They might not “get” the verses totally, but they’ll buy into the singalong chorus and apply their own meanings. Whether it can actually be a hit I don’t know – I always figured the odds were stacked against them there anyway.

  33. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Whoa, Chris N., that’s a pretty bad comparison. “Play The Song” is a songwriter’s complaint about what radio won’t play; “Murder On Music Row” is a fan’s anthem about what’s happened to country music. The couplet that has “mixed” in it isn’t exactly hard for them to relate to:

    “For the steel guitars no longer cry and you can’t hear fiddles play/with drums and rock ‘n’ roll guitars mixed right up in your face.”

    “Play The Song” probably gets cheers at the Bluebird; “Murder On Music Row” gets cheers in every American Legion hall and music barn and school auditorium show and music festival we do; I think we’d be lynched if Cord tried to get us off stage without singing it. I don’t see that ever happening with “Play The Song.”

  34. Chris D.
    February 25, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    From what I’ve heard, Bareilles label told her “Your album needs a love song”, so she wrote them “Love Song” and the rest followed. That story has been in interviews, and other places, so I think it’s true…

    Dan, I told what I just typed to my mom who likes the song and she commented that she thought the song didn’t make sense, so it seems like most people didn’t even care what the song was about, just like you said.

  35. Rick
    February 25, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Jon, are you Jon Randall? If so, welcome aboard! (And if not, welcome aboard too! lol) I love it when industry insiders join us here in the blogs and give us the real inside scoop. This is a great discussion thread so far.

  36. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    “Jon, are you Jon Randall?”

    Yikes, no. But I do play in Cordle’s band, among other gigs, so I see first-hand how much “Murder” means to a lot of ordinary country and bluegrass fans.

  37. Matt B.
    February 25, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Wow, who knew that this song would stir up so much discussion about why or why not something will be a hit. Perhaps this song WAS pulled so that Joey+Rory would release “Play The Song” in response. That song may be an ‘insider’ song but I don’t see how fans won’t like it. Oh, and Jon it DOES play well to the industry crowd.

  38. Brady Vercher
    February 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Jon: “Anyone heard of secondary and tertiary markets, or looked at the experience of labels like Sugar Hill in working them?

    But why would Sugar Hill make those markets the primary focus, especially when it comes to choosing a single, for a group that’s received national TV exposure and has Top 40 potential. It seems to me they’d be doing themselves and Joey + Rory a disservice.

  39. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    “That song may be an ‘insider’ song but I don’t see how fans won’t like it. Oh, and Jon it DOES play well to the industry crowd.”

    I’m sure it does; who on Music Row doesn’t think country radio programming is too narrow?

    But I don’t see why fans would like it any more than “Three Minute Positive Not Too Country…,” which isn’t exactly at the top of the Alan Jackson request list, and I don’t see why it would – or should – do any better at country (or any other kind of) radio than that one did. It’s not a gripping subject, it’s not a fun subject, and – IMO of course – it’s not a very memorable song in any respect.

    If “Play That Song” is the single, then my bet is that they’re angling more for press than airplay, which is probably not a bad idea.

  40. JD
    February 25, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Jon: “Does anyone opining about radio strategy here have any actual experience with or insight into country radio promotion?”

    No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn last night!

  41. Rick
    February 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Jon, then are you Jon Byrd? If so, I purchased your “Byrd’s Auto Parts” CD after hearing you on the E.T. Record Shop Midnite Jamboree with The Wrights and reading the nice review on Country Standard Time. Sometimes they let me play guest DJ during country music shows here in Los Angeles at the Grand Ole Echo and I spin “Freightliner Fever” when I can. And even if you’re not Jon Byrd, your getting to share the stage with Kristin Scott Benson makes you a lucky guy regardless! (lol) Okay, I’ll quit being so nosy.

    Jon, what song off of “The Life of a Song” would you tag as the next single? Just wondering….

  42. Matt B.
    February 25, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    rick, click Jon’s name to see who he is.

  43. Jon
    February 25, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Nope, not Jon Byrd, either, though he’s a friend of mine. And Kristin’s with the Grascals now ( If I’ve done it right, clicking on my name at the top of this post will take you to my MySpace page if you really want to know more, or you can go here:

    As far as picking a single goes, that’s not my job, nor, as best I can tell, part of my skill set – and truth to tell, I don’t really like the album all that much, though there’s some great playing on it, and anything Carl Jackson has a hand in is going to be a quality product; fact is, I like Cord’s version of “Freebird” better and the LRB’s recording of “Tune Of A Twenty…” (and even Shawn’s live one, which is about as off-the-cuff as it gets) better, too. So while I wish them well, it’s hard for me to muster up the enthusiasm to think hard about the subject.

    I will say that there are a lot of factors involved, which gets at Brady’s question. What happens with a next single, and after that, depends on a lot of things, and assuming 1) that the limited chart action “Cheater, Cheater” had and the limited TV exposure Joey+Rory have gotten are something that can really be built on at chart-reporting country radio and/or 2) that that’s what Joey+Rory and Sugar Hill are wanting to do isn’t necessarily warranted. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the goals – beyond selling enough records to make a profit (which, if the 100k figure mentioned above is correct, has already been done) – determine which cat needs to be skinned which way. For instance, as I suggested, they’ll probably get more good press out of releasing “Play The Song” than anything else from the record; on the other hand, they might want to focus on which song will make for the strongest video, and follow that path; there have certainly been plenty of video hits that have helped record sales without corresponding success on the big charts, especially if the single is also being worked to secondary and tertiary markets. There are a lot of variables, and of course, the biggest one of all is the decision-making at reporting stations. You can sink a whole lot of money into trying to influence that and get nowhere at all.

  44. Matt C.
    February 25, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Is this the most pointless The 9513 discussion thread ever? As I understand it, the primary purpose of The 9513 single reviews is to assess the artistic quality of the single, not prognosticate about its commercial success. Furthermore, this song isn’t even going to be released as a single. So why are we so obsessed with how it will do at radio?

  45. Paul W Dennis
    February 26, 2009 at 3:35 am

    “Freebird” is the worst track on the album (it wasn’t much better when released by Lynyrd Skynyrd either). I hope that the label doesn’t decide to push this as a later single (which could happen)

  46. JD
    February 26, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Matt C: “Is this the most pointless The 9513 discussion thread ever?”

    47 comments and counting….

  47. Jim Malec
    February 26, 2009 at 6:51 am

    Single reviews always do have some hint of a commercial concern–otherwise, we’d just be doing song reviews.

  48. Jon
    February 26, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Whatever the general purpose of single reviews here might be, this particular one was built around commercial concern–it’s the subject of the opening sentence and closing paragraph in a 4 paragraph review. Not surprising that folks would pick up on that.

  49. Jim Malec
    February 26, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Of course folks are going to pick up on that. So what? It’s a single review. Single reviews go to radio. Sometimes radio considerations are especially important when reviewing radio singles. Our audience includes radio professionals. What the big deal?

    Besides, at least half of this review deals with the song itself, while half deals with context.

  50. Jon
    February 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Uh, Jim, I was pretty much just agreeing with you.

  51. Chris N.
    February 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

    “Is this the most pointless The 9513 discussion thread ever?”

    That would be some heavy competition.

  52. Kelly
    February 26, 2009 at 11:20 am

    “Is this the most pointless The 9513 discussion thread ever?”

    “That would be some heavy competition”

    Well, since no one has come on this thread and defended Buddy Jewell as a man that speaks for real Americans, I would say it is still a ways back on the list…

  53. Rick
    February 27, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Matt C., I find the discussions and comments here about radio viability to be extremely interesting, in fact far more than the song “Free Bird” itself. Song reviews get tiresome quickly, and especially when the songs themselves tend toward mediocrity. Trying to figure out how Top 40 programmers tick and how best to position a single from an act like Joey + Rory in today’s marketplace is far less common and much more intriguing. To each his own I guess….

  54. Jaime
    February 27, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Ha. Good one, Kelly!

  55. Lisa
    April 13, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I first heard the cover driving down the road. I had just bought the cd and was on a road trip. The music started, not really paying attention, suddenly I was singing along to a song I had never heard before. I LOVED it. I love the original as well. But what do I know? I’m just a listener who wishes the industry would just play the song, and not talk about it so much.

  56. Blake
    June 9, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Sorry, but you’re way off on this review. This cover, specifically, is a breath of fresh air compared to countless covers of this song.

  57. Mike Bushell
    July 25, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Frankly, Wynona Judd’s opionion matters more to me. This cover made her tear up. Me too. I think the reviewer is out of touch with the people who do the listening out here. But what do I know. I am just a country fan who is fed up with what has been done to the industry by Hollywood types.

  58. Mike Bushell
    July 25, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Oops. I meant Naomi Judd of course, Love them both.

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