The Waymores, Atlanta’s retro country stalwarts, have released their sophomore album, and it comes with a twist: It was produced by legendary producer Shel Talmy, who was behind the board on the Kinks’ classic “You Really Got Me” and The Who’s signature song “My Generation.”
Greener Pastures, released via Chicken Ranch Records, sees husband and wife duo Kira Annalise and Willie Heath Neal returning once more to the gentle waves of Southern serenity and rugged good cheer that defined their first release, 2022’s Stone Sessions.
The duo began when Annalise and Neal — both struggling country artists in their own rights — began to perform small-scale local shows together to make ends meet between larger touring opportunities. The shows became unexpectedly popular after a video of the duo performing a rendition of John Prine and Iris DeMent’s “In Spite of Ourselves” became a viral sensation in 2018.
“Next thing we know, we’re getting requests for private house concerts out as far as Arizona,” recalls Heath. Seeing the opportunity to capitalize on their rapidly expanding fan base, the duo began booking their own independent tours. They now play between 150 and 200 shows a year and maintain that do-it-yourself ethic.
That relentless pace has brought them a devoted fan base hungry for a sound that eschews the so-called “stadium country” for something rootsy and organic. A commitment to that sound has led the duo to Greener Pastures. While throwbacks to earlier eras of country music have always defined the Waymores’ sound, the songs on this record seem less like nods to the past than they do long lost tapes from 50 years ago.
“This album lends itself to very classic country styles,” explains Annalise. The decision came as a result of working with legendary producer Talmy, famous for his work with the Kinks, the Who (he produced “My Generation”) and David Bowie, among many others. “Since we were working with him we chose to really go back to that late ’60s/early ’70s kind of vein.”
That commitment to vintage sensibilities went well beyond the music and into the production techniques. “Everything was live,” says Neal. “And it was a very educational experience.”
Annalise is quick to point out that Talmy was deeply involved in the writing process to ensure that the classic era of country music would be reflected throughout. “We wrote a bunch of songs and had friends write with us; then we would send Shel demos and he would change everything and tell us to redo it,” she laughs. “I thought a lot of the arrangements were very unexpected for what we’re used to. But now listening back to things from that era of music — it is very spot on.”
The Waymores were introduced to Talmy through a mutual friend who played him the duo’s debut album. “Shel had always wanted to do country music,” says Annalise. “He said, ‘Who are these guys? I love this sound.’”
At the time, Talmy was being filmed for a documentary film project about his life and saw working with the Waymores as an opportunity to provide footage of his production process. To that end, the film’s producers paid the cost of recording the first two songs. Artist and producer quickly saw that there was magic in the air. “Everybody just kind of fell in love with each other and decided we needed to go back and do eight more songs,” says Annalise.
Greener Pastures features a slew of crackerjack players, including steel guitarist Dave Pearlman (Merle Haggard, Chuck Berry, Phil Everly), bassist James Hutchinson (Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green) and keyboardist Phil Parlapiano (Joan Baez, John Prine, Rod Stewart), among others. The result is an ensemble that comes together with remarkable intimacy, and the live setting affords top-tier session players the opportunity to develop real interplay between each other.
The collaboration with Talmy was a decision that paid off. Songs like “Under Your Spell Again” and “You Got Gold” deliver a satisfying blend of vintage country and folksy Americana. It’s a soulful sound blissfully disconnected from the electro-pop underpinnings of modern mainstream country.
That irrelevance to today’s popular country suits the Waymores just fine. “All that Nashville ever cared about was competing with the pop charts,” says Neal. “When you’re trying to do that it’s going to compromise the integrity of the music. They call us ‘alt country.’ That’s backwards — we’re country. Pop country is the alternative.”
Jordan Owen began writing about music professionally at the age of 16 in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2006 graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he is a professional guitarist, bandleader and composer. He is currently the lead guitarist for the jazz group Other Strangers, the power metal band Axis of Empires and the melodic death/thrash metal band Century Spawn.