Joey + Rory – “To Say Goodbye”

Stephen Deusner | July 17th, 2009

Joey plus Rory - To Say GoodbyeSongwriters: Rory Feek, Joey Martin, Jamie Teachenor

Joey + Rory take a different tack for the third single from their 2008 debut, The Life of a Song. Instead of another catchy, upbeat number like “Cheater Cheater” or “Play the Song”—neither of which really stormed the charts—the husband-and-wife duo have released a downtempo ballad, “To Say Goodbye,” to see if that fares any better.

Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Do you really want a song as sappy as this to become a radio staple? Joey Martin Feek sings about lost love and loneliness in their most basic forms, over bland accompaniment accentuated by soundtrack piano. In the first verse, a woman loses her husband in 9/11. In the second, an old man lovingly cares for his wife, who has Alzheimer’s and can’t remember him. And in the chorus, Joey sings about how much it hurts that they didn’t get to say good-bye.

Country music does sentimental better than just about any other genre, but “To Say Goodbye” crosses an important line between sentiment and treacle—the line that separate the-way-things-were ballads from kids-with-cancer anthems—and what might have been tolerable becomes exploitive. The woman’s husband doesn’t just die in a plane crash, but in 9-freakin’-11! National tragedies and personal illnesses are certainly legitimate concerns for musicians and artists to address, but this song indulges melodrama with no real focus or point. Rather than ache with any semblance of humanity, the characters are barely even cardboard, and so these scenarios feel under-imagined and clichéd rather than universal and relatable.

Worse, “To Say Goodbye” sounds weirdly truncated, as if there’s a third verse missing where the widow visits the old man in the nursing home. At least that plot twist might have provided some sort of narrative resolution, which would make the verses more than simply clinical case studies.

“To Say Goodbye” isn’t science, though. It’s emotional porn, serving only to arouse emotions and jerk tears.

Thumbs Down

  1. J.R. Journey
    July 17, 2009 at 8:03 am

    This ought to bring out the commenters. :)

    I agree with this review. I never understood the hype around this song. It was just another tear-jerker to me too.

  2. Paul W Dennis
    July 17, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I concur – actually I felt that the whole CD was a bit overpraised, although, by and large, I enjoyed it

  3. Drew
    July 17, 2009 at 8:30 am

    I agree with the point that it feels like it’s missing a third verse, but still definitely wouldn’t give it a thumbs down. I like it, and really felt the emotion of the song when I first heard it.

  4. Leeann Ward
    July 17, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Since I love the album, I felt this song was out of place on an otherwise tasteful project. A lot of people really love it, but it’s my least favorite on the album, because it tries to reach a pandering place that the other songs do a good job of avoiding.

  5. Jordan Stacey
    July 17, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I’m gonna agree with Drew, felt like a third verse was missing or something, but I felt the emotion when I heard it. to each their own I guess.

  6. Nicolas
    July 17, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Such a good song, I really didn’t see that thumbs down coming at all.

  7. Mike Parker
    July 17, 2009 at 9:39 am

    This and Freebird were the only two songs I didn’t care for on the CD.

  8. Leeann Ward
    July 17, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Mike, pretty much the same for me, except I like Freebird a lot better when it comes right down to it. I will say that Joey sounds really good still here though.

  9. Jim Malec
    July 17, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Her vocals are the only positive thing about this.

  10. idlewildsouth
    July 17, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Perhaps I’m the person they were pandering to, but having my grandfather die in a violent car wreck, this song really speaks to me. That being said, I definitely see where your coming from with the review. Were it not for how close to home it is, I would probably have the same reservations about it.

    It is a little much, the 9/11 thing, but I like they dont come right out and say it. Not that its hidden and if you dont have the code, your not going to get it, but its still hitting you over the head with it.

  11. Lanibug
    July 17, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I actually like this song, and I have never gotten the impression that the first verse was a 9/11 verse, just a verse of losing a loved one in a place crash.

    I don’t get the feeling the this song is missing anything, but to me, I think it is just that we often dont get to say goodbye and why should it be that the two verses connect – just leave it as it is…

  12. Leeann Ward
    July 17, 2009 at 9:49 am

    I don’t think the 9/11 reference is overt, but very implied.

  13. Nicolas
    July 17, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Yeah, it mentions her turning the TV on and all the channels having the same thing on… if it was just any plane crash, that wouldn’t make sense

  14. Drew
    July 17, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Not sure how you couldn’t pick up on the 9/11 reference…

  15. Lucas
    July 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

    The last line of this article is a rather weird choice.

  16. Rick
    July 17, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I like this song, but then I’m a sucker for these overly sentimental sops (Ashton Shepherd’s “Angel Wings”, Sherrie Austin’s “Streets of Heaven”) when they are so over the top I just shake me head. The pleasant, mellow presentation of this song will be as welcome as Top 40 AirHead country radio as a leper at a Health Expo convention. Radio will ignore this cut more than “Play The Song”, if that is possible. I’m amazed that Joey + Rory’s label continues to release radio singles and videos as I don’think doing so will recruit many new fans.

    I feel that Joey’s “See You There” off her “Strong Enough To Cry” solo album is far more connected emotionally as everyone has lost loved ones to accidents at some point in their lives.

  17. Jon
    July 17, 2009 at 11:46 am

    “The last line of this article is a rather weird choice.”

    I think it’s a pretty good one, because it made me think of Justice Stewart’s line about hard core pornography – the one about how he couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it – and that’s a good reminder that, no matter how pontifical a reviewer might try to sound, the “line between sentiment and treacle” is one drawn by each listener. One’s “emotional porn” is another’s “emotional erotica” ;-) .

  18. Matt B.
    July 17, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Do you really want a song as sappy as this to become a radio staple?

    Actually, I do. I immediately thought of friends that passed away suddenly and even my Grandmother who died suddenly of a heart attack. This is a true human emotion being sung about here. Sure there could’ve been a third verse but what would’ve been the point. The message was already cast.

    I can see the other side about this song being ‘emotional treacle’ but it’s not for me and I’m betting for many people listening to country radio it won’t be either.

  19. Leeann Ward
    July 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    …Which is why they likely released it, Matt.:(

  20. Vicki
    July 17, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    Ok… yeah I’m a sucker for these sappy, tear jerker songs. I instantly cried. So sue me! It may not be a song rich in intelligent words or great music..but it tells a picture story and with Joey’s sensitive vocals, it got me.

  21. Dan Milliken
    July 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Great review, and I agree. I know this will probably push the right buttons for a lot of people, but I’d so much rather see “Sweet Emmylou” get a shot. Or “Heart of the Wood”, but that seems too good to be true.

    But I also called “Play The Song,” and that did nothing but produce an awesome music video, so I’m probably not the best judge for single choices.

  22. idlewildsouth
    July 17, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I’d love to see “Heart of the Wood” on the radio. What an incredible song!

  23. Rick
    July 18, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Maybe this song’s title is a kiss off way “to say goodbye” to Top 40 AirHead Country radio since they ignore Joey + Rory these days anyway! The Sugar Hill folks should have learned their lesson by now that “Cheater, Cheater” was a bit of a fluke because of it’s novelty factor. On the other hand the music video channels seem to like to air the excellent Joey + Rory music videos and that should be continued as the primary marketing tool. I’m just glad Joey + Rory are on a label that doesn’t require huge sales volumes to keep them on the roster and recording new music. Phew! (lol)

  24. Mike
    July 25, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I think the criticisms only emphasize what I like about this duo. They choose the songs that they like and invite those who agree to buy and listen. I really think (or hope) that they don’t care what the snipers say. I think they are in this because they love genuine country music. As they said in a Can You Duet promo, they are the real deal. I really hope that junk reviews like this don’t cause them to change one bit, either in style or choice of songs. They are a breath of fresh air and I love them – this song included.

  25. Mike
    July 25, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Oh, and one more thing Stephen. That “emotional porn” comment was tasteless and beneath contempt. There are hundreds of thousands of people who love real country music precisely because it evokes strong emotions and helps them deal with grief and sorrow, as well as joy. Pornography takes things which are blessings and trashes them. That is precisely what your review does. Now who’s the pronographer?

  26. Stephen M. Deusner
    July 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Mike, let me address your last comment there and explain the nature of that remark. Obviously a lot of people have connected with this song emotionally, and the stories related above are very moving—a good reminder that music can offer unique solace at our saddest moments. In particular, country music has a history of shrinking the distance between singer and listener to express emotions sincerely and straightforwardly, without sacrificing nuance for intensity. Sounds like we both agree on that.

    What bugs me about this song—and what provoked the porn comment—is that it’s simply emotion for the sake of emotion. There’s no story here, no human stakes, no real characters or lived experiences, either in the lyrics or in the performances. So there’s no real insight here either, at least not beyond what I feel is a pretty broad observation that we all need to say goodbye to loved ones. Personally, if I’m going to connect closely with a song, I need to hear something real, personal, and true. All I get from “To Say Goodbye” are exploitive archetypes and second-hand generalities.

  27. Mike
    July 25, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    I hear you Stephen and I appreciate your response. I don’t agree though. Joey Martin did another heartbraking song called “See You There” (on her “unreleased” CD. The sentiments evoked by that song are the same. It is also about someone who died without being able to say anything more than an implied goodbye. But it is about the death of her brother. J&R’s fans know that and it colors the way they hear this song and it makes the charge of “emotional porn” very offensive. To anyone who has lost someone they love, this song is not exploitive. Nothing in the history of this couple suggests such base motives. Is it not possible that you have become a little jaded by an industry that revolves around making money? Joey and Rory are drawing a lot of devoted fans precisely because they don’t seem to be cut from that cloth. Time will tell of course. But they seem genuine to me and I am more excited about them than any duo in two decades.

  28. NashvilleReality Check
    July 29, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Are we listening to the same song? Emotional Porn? Say What!!? Go listen to it. The reviewer is WAYYYYYY off on this one folks. So whats the big deal about a 9-11 reference? And by the way real people lost real loved ones that day. This song is an emotional powerhouse!! If you have lost someone you love(And that’s about all of us during the course of a lifetime)it connects with you. Even if you haven’t you have to sympathize with the characters in the song. Many of us know people(not made of “Cardboard”) in both of the situations and it’s heartbreaking real life stuff ,not “melodrama”. BTW. Joey’s performance on this is OUT-FREEKING STANDING!! And how many of our current stars ever cut something this good, sung with this kind of honesty in their voice? It’s just undeniable compared to the goofy 3 minute dittys we’re subjected to on Country radio on a daily basis. I’ll take honest emotion and real talent everyday of the week over that stuff.This is an Allison Krauss, Emmylou level vocal performance in my humble opinion. Save the barbs for the crap (like your supposed to be doing) Nuff Said

  29. Ccc
    August 4, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I know this song means so much to me and i would love to be able to hear it on the radio more!

  30. Dick
    August 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I am not sure if you this review was done out of emotional frustration, or you simply don’t have a heart. Honestly, if you knew the history of the song and the Joey’s history from the loss of your Brother (whom was also her best friend), I think you would have at least provided some insight with a touch more class. Personally, I have lost a Brother and a Sister to tragedy well before their time and for anyone that has, you would be much more understanding. Joey has the voice of an angel….pure country (unlike most now days) and she sings this song from the heart…something that you clearly don’t have.



  31. Leeann Ward
    August 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Ha! Telling someone that he doesn’t have a heart surely does not breed peace.

    I love me some Joey + Rory, but if J+R had replaced the 9/11 verse with one that related to losing her brother, this song might have had a chance of working better for me. I don’t doubt that Joey relates this song to that tragic event in her life, but the song bares no indacation of it.

  32. Dick
    August 17, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I respect your comments, but you may want to drop by this link and tell Joey that herself. I think since she wrote the song, she would respectfully disagree. This link is all about the song and Joey’s farwell to her Brother.


  33. Leeann Ward
    August 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    As I said, I don’t doubt that she relates this song to her brother, but it’s not implicit enough for us to do the same without knowing her story. It only talks of two couples who had to say goodbye, not siblings or even friends. I never like it when I have to reach for the backstory. I like for there to be at least a hint of it found in the song in order for me to assimilate them.

  34. Stormy
    August 17, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    If it were really a good song would we need the whole brother backstory to win us over?

  35. Stephen M. Deusner
    August 17, 2009 at 7:29 pm


    I guess I don’t hear too much about her brother on here, unless he died in 9/11 or has Alzheimer’s. However personal the song may be doesn’t make it “good” or “bad” — if that were the case, every autobiographical song about lost loved ones would be equally praise-worthy. This or any other song can only be judged on how well it addresses, assesses, and conveys that tragedy, and in this case, I don’t think “To Say Goodbye” moves beyond a very superficial portrayal of cliched tragedies.

    But it’s curious that you think there is some criteria for “getting” this song. In fact, I do have a heart and I have lost many people close to me. My father died seven years ago, and the pain is still fresh today, the wounds still extremely raw. During his illness, I turned to music for comfort and grew very attached to many songs and albums that I still keep in rotation today. That experience doesn’t make me appreciate “To Say Goodbye”; in fact, it makes me listen with a more critical ear. The song still strikes me as too hackneyed to address my very real sense of loss–or anyone else’s for that matter.

  36. shannon
    September 18, 2009 at 7:58 am

    I thought “See You There” was about her brother not this song

  37. BAMBI
    September 21, 2010 at 1:43 am

    I love(d?) this song because the imagery of the nursing home struck home with me and actually made me cry. The review makes some very valid points though. I think i’ve been suckered. It is a bit of a cheap shot. But listening to it alone in my car with the sound turned up so i can hear rory feek’s back ground vocals i know i’ll still be suckered and i don’t mind at all . I think this duo has a very charming and “real”sound but unfortunately a lot of their lyrics are heavy handed pandering. I find that more true on songs like their new one, This Song’s For You or also on Album #2 the song baby i’ll come back, you ain’t right. Yeah you’re country, we’re country, you like us, hard work is good, we get it. Break my heart or make me feel something don’t tell me redneck jokes.

  38. soldiers wife
    October 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Aside from being a poorly contrived opinion & review, it’s out of touch with country music’s fan base. While country music fans appreciate upbeat, stomp your feet, get up and go tempos, country music is also the foundation for meaningful songs that touch people in realistic terms. “To Say Goodbye” is not just poignant, but real. As the wife of a soldier – I can assure you, from holding many a hand of a grieving widow, it’s sometimes not having one last opportunity to say goodbye that’s so painful. We say goodbye at home, at the airport, etc – but when a loss from a million miles away is final – where having one last touch is almost always impossible (due to catastrophic injury) – this song really expresses one source of the ache in your soul. Music is putting into song what you can’t always find the words for, and this song accomplishes that perfectly.

  39. WAYNOE
    October 20, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Soldier’s Wife,

    And to think that a song so stupid as “Stuck Like Glue” from that God-awful act called Sugarland get’s a thumbs up and this doesn’t. The only criteria for many music reviews is having a case of insanity wrapped up in the pen of a ready writer.

  40. Chuck M.
    December 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Joey+Rory are the real deal Both on and off stage! The song: “To Say Goodbye” touched me! A song doesn’t have to meet any special criteria to touch someone when it’s heartfelt. The vocal is delivered with compassion! The lyrics speak sorrow in simplicity and sincerity. If only the business part could understand! Chuck M.

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