Country duo Joey + Rory seem like the very model of the modern-day multimedia act at first: They came to prominence by appearing on the CMT music-competition show Can You Duet, where they placed third; they're the faces of website Overstock.com, appearing in a series of TV commercials; they've got another reality show in development at CMT, which will follow their home life (they're married) and working relationship. The first thing the announcer at Santa Fe Station's Chrome showroom mentions by way of introduction to their concert tonight is the Overstock connection.
So maybe you expect to see a pair of slick, TV-bred pop stars come out onstage, but Joey + Rory defy their pedigree immediately. Joey is attractive in a TV-friendly way, sure, but she's dressed like a country star out of the past, in her embroidered Western blouse, jeans and big ol' belt buckle. And her husband is wearing tan overalls that emphasize his rural farming background. There's a set-up for a full band behind them, but it goes unused (it's for the lounge act that's playing after the concert). Instead, the two sit on stools, Rory with an acoustic guitar, and Joey with just her lovely voice. They spend nearly as much time telling stories as they do playing songs, stories about their marriage, their farm (yes, they live on a farm), their love for old-time country music. The songs they play are simple, unadorned, carried by their heartfelt lyrics and undeniable melodies.
Yet a few of those songs are ditties composed specifically for Overstock ads. Another is a humorous take on the TV show that gave the duo its start. Yet another is about the restaurant run by Rory's sister, which is to be the setting of the upcoming CMT reality show; the tune is clearly tailor-made to be its theme song. The concert ends with a song called "Buy Our CD." These two are far from throwback rubes making mountain music; they know their audience, they know how to strike the right balance between self-deprecation and self-promotion, and yet they're completely sincere and genuine as they do so.
The dynamic between Joey and Rory is sweet, unforced, romantic. They clasp hands and kiss chastely at opportune moments. They kid each other, interrupt each other's stories. It could all be rehearsed shtick -- heck, it probably is all rehearsed shtick -- but it's believable and affecting. And the performance itself is spontaneous and exciting. Only six of the 22 songs in the 85-minute set come from the duo's 2008 debut album. The rest are a mix of new songs and selections from the vast vault of Rory's 15 years as a Nashville pro songwriter, including Blake Shelton's hit "Some Beach," which comes off as much less smug and bombastic in Joey + Rory's hands.
If these two are caught between traditional values and the modern Nashville machine, they seem to know how to navigate that middle ground very well. In contrast to their TV appearances and official recordings, here Rory sings lead on about half the songs. "They wouldn't let me sing on the TV show," he shrugs, and goes about correcting that oversight, proving that this is a true team, a collaboration in all respects. The enthusiastic audience responds with equal vigor to songs familiar and unfamiliar, clearly feeling that connection. If the reality shows and endorsement deals all dry up, Joey + Rory will easily be able to maintain a career the old-fashioned way -- with serious talent.