Heidi Feek isn’t the only hip, twenty-something daughter of a country music hitmaker to burst onto the Nashville scene, but one listen to the seductive mezzo vocals and reverb-drenched musicality on her debut full-length album, The Only, and it’s easy to see how she sets herself apart.
Feek’s music, self-described as “the swoon of Patsy Cline, the vibe of Chris Isaak, and the balls of Neko Case,” isn’t necessarily what you would expect from the daughter of country music visioneers Joey+Rory, but then again, it is. Staying true to her roots, the melodies of The Only are anchored in a timeless songwriting style evocative of the days when Roy Orbison ruled the Nashville sound, yet Feek’s raw and unbridled vocal stylings coupled with the edgy, youthful execution of the album’s instrumentation, effortlessly bring this record to the forefront of contemporary nostalgia artistry.
Brought to life in Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio (Keane, JEFF The Brotherhood), the warmth of the analog methods used to record the album provide the perfect setting for showcasing Feek’s innate storytelling sensibilities through her songwriting. “I always love a good story,” she admits. “Whether it's in a song, book, movie, or poem... I soak it all up.” And it’s her love for narrative that shines throughout the entirety of The Only. Each track on the 11-song album offers up its own compelling storyline, creating individual moments frozen in time. Tunes like the Sun-Studio-reminiscent “’57 Bel Air” send you flying down the highway with all the windows rolled down, while the Tarantino-esque “One Night With You” puts you straight in the middle of a racy love triangle in Spanish Harlem.
For The Only, Feek’s penchant for spinning stories is highlighted by a band of some of Nashville’s strongest music industry vets and up-and-coming musicians. Grammy-nominated songwriter James Slater (Kenny Chesney, Jamey Johnson) along with strat-man Jeremy Fetzer (Caitlin Rose) and rhythm kings Michael Rinne (Jack White) and Evan Hutchings (Escondido) make the tracks jump straight off of the 2” tape they were recorded on.
“I’m passionate about good music,” Feek explains. “By ‘good,’ I mean lyrically, musically, and artistically... the whole package.” And it’s clear from her seemingly effortless personal sensibilities and artistry that she holds her own work to that measure of quality. Her musical dexterity and seasoned on-stage presence give her the aura of an experienced musical veteran wise beyond her years, a direct reflection of her upbringing in the music business.
Growing up around Nashville’s top tunesmiths (the likes of Waylon Jennings and Harlan Howard), a young Heidi used to tag along Music Row with her father, falling asleep in his guitar case while he made the rounds as a songwriter in the 90’s. “Dad used to play the bars trying to make it in town,” she recalls. “I have many, many memories of sitting at honky-tonks until very late at night, eating cherries with my sister and singing along to Dwight Yoakam songs he would
play. I actually got my start as a performer getting up during those gigs and singing an old Bobby Bare song called 'Daddy What If.’”
Inspired by her environment, she soon began teaching herself how to play guitar and writing her own music. “My dad was always one of my biggest musical inspirations in that regard,” she confesses. “He instilled an attention to detail in me, lyrically, that I’m very thankful for. He would always play me his new songs and ask for my opinions on them. Then he would smile at me like I wasn’t 9 years old and knew what I was talking about. He always indulged my thought process, even as a child. It taught me a lot.”
Alongside her parents, Feek garnered musical credits on multiple top-selling albums, toured overseas, and even performed on the Opry stage on more than one occasion, but it didn’t take long before she felt the need to break out and forge her own musical path.
In 2010, she released her first EP, Eden, to local critical acclaim. The folk-meets- Americana-meets-pop record featured an eclectic blend of musical styles that showcased Feek’s natural songwriting capabilities through angsty lyrics, mellow grooves, and an authentic vocal sound. Renowned music critic Jewly Hight proclaimed that Feek’s voice was a “fine, supple instrument, sometimes approaching Patsy Cline’s velveteen glides,” while The Deli Magazine touted the EP as “an impressively strong first release for the Nashville singer/songwriter,” declaring it a “simply lovely” album.
Two years later, however, when the time came to create her first full-length record, Feek felt the desire to hone in on a livelier sound, more reminiscent of the greats that inspired her youth. “I found myself being drawn back to the music my dad would play for me growing up: a mixture of Elvis, Steve Earle, Chris Isaak, and Dwight Yoakam,” she says. “That’s when I stumbled upon Chris Isaak’s Forever Blue and it really rocked my world. After listening to that, it was like a musical light bulb turned on in my head... My new album just feels more personal in that way,” she continues, “like an homage to everything that inspired me as a kid and still inspires me as an adult.”
It was Feek’s quest to pay tribute to the sounds of her youth that inspired the record’s minor-re-envisioned cover of Elvis Presley’s classic “Heartbreak Hotel.” It’s also the unspoken anecdotes of her country music heritage sprinkled throughout the The Only that add an air of authenticity and vulnerability to the album, particularly on songs like “There Lives A Fool.” “My Dad wrote that song with (country music artist) Sara Evans in '96 or '97,” Feek explains. “He would get me up to sing it in his writers-in-the-rounds, so I've been performing it for about 16 years now. It's a really special song for me, and it means so much to be able to put it on this record.”
With a Daytrotter session for The Only already in the can and a vinyl collaboration project with Crosley in the works, anticipation for Feek’s self- produced album has already begun—and she couldn’t be more proud. “This record is all the music I've ever made and listened to all rolled into a sound that that’s completely different from anything I've ever done before. It's a very special project. It’s taken me to a place, musically, I've never been.” And what a place that is.