Seven-year-old Indiana Feek spends summer days like any little girl should, playing with her friends, hugging her daddy and singing all of her favorite songs.

"She runs around singing "Cheater, Cheater" quite a bit," proud father Rory Feek shares. That's the country song that put her mommy and daddy, country duo Joey+ Rory, on people's radars in 2008.

"The only thing is that she has changed the words to 'Cheater, cheater, where’d you meet that no-good trash bag,'" Feek reveals.

He laughs as he watches Indy and her friends gather outside of the little schoolhouse on the sprawling property he once shared with his late wife Joey, who died after a harrowing cancer battle in 2016.

"The song Indiana really loves right now is "One Angel,"" Feek shares. That's one of the songs on his new album Gentle Man (June 18) — a stunning collection of songs that come straight from the heart of one of music's most treasured storytellers. "Dolly [Parton] sings with me on that one, and Indiana loves Dolly just as much her Mama did," he says.

Feek has been holding onto these songs for years, waiting for the perfect time to release his first solo album since Joey died in 2016. "I'm excited for it to find its way out into the world,” he admits. "Once you do something and you make something, it lives out there forever. Wherever out there is, it lives forever."

It’s a precious notion from a man who has been forced to live his recent years without the love of his life by his side. A peek into this painful reality seems to kick off the project with Feek’s collaboration with Vince Gill on the heartfelt "Me and the Blues." But there is another, almost eerie story behind that song.

“I co-wrote that song 20 years ago when I first bought the farmhouse,” Feek explains. "The song is about the mistake that I thought I made buying this farmhouse. I was here and everyone I knew was in Nashville. But when we were considering songs for this album, I remembered this song, and I quickly realized that it is actually about now."

Despite a long list of projects that Feek has immersed himself in — everything from television to books, to raising Indy as a single dad — he has moments where his weary heart still hurts.

"I am a very positive person, so I don't have those kinds of moments that often, but sometimes … I do," he admits. Joey's cancer was discovered in 2014, just a few months after Indy was born; by October of 2015, it was declared terminal. The couple decided to discontinue treatment, and Joey died in March of 2016, just weeks after her daughter's second birthday.

Rory Feek has remained present in the public eye, and he's been vocal about their journey — now his journey — and his faith in God. God handed him a pen and an inspiration to create, he says, and this blessing gave Feek the confidence to release Gentle Man. 

On many of the songs, he's joined by country music’s finest. The tracklist includes Lee Ann Womack and Ricky Skaggs.

"They are definitely heroes to me," Feek says. "I'm looking forward to meeting them. Right now, I'm trying to handwrite cards to each one of them to say thank you. That's a lot of pressure … how do you put everything down you want to say?"

Joey would have completed the task effortlessly, he acknowledges, if she were here in the flesh. He still feels her nearby spiritually — she's in everything he does, including in helping him craft this album.

“I really do think she would have loved all of the songs for different reasons,” he says. “I mean, she loved writers and she loved stories, and she would have been really happy to have me singing again, especially doing it this way, very acoustic-driven country."

As for what her favorite might have been? Rory thinks he knows.

"I think she would have loved "Gentle Man" the most,” he says, speaking. more quietly now. "If I know her, I know she would say that what the song says is so important. And just knowing that would mean a lot to me."

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