Greener Pastures (out 8/25/23 via Chicken Ranch Records)
There are lots of folks in the music industry saying they can help you get a leg up, or they know a guy who knows a guy, so when The Waymores heard about legendary producer Shel Talmy not only enjoying their music but wanting to work with them, they chalked it up to being talk out of school. “An introductory email was sent and when I saw Shel Talmy’s name pop up on my phone I thought someone was punking me,” notes one half of the duo Kira Annalise. The group’s sophomore album Stone Sessions had achieved media recognition and word had spread across the country from The Waymores home base in Atlanta to Los Angeles where actor and restaurateur Harry Zinn heard The Waymores and shared the songs with his good friend Shel.
Talmy is a record producer, songwriter and arranger best known for his 1960’s work with The Who, The Kinks, David Bowie and many others. In an interview with musician/producer/songwriter Artie Wayne, Talmy says “I’m a hands-on producer, meaning that I always work with the artist on choosing material, doing the arrangements, getting musicians if necessary, choosing the studio and being there for the entire production on through the mixes and mastering.” He took the same approach with The Waymores. Quickly after the introductory email, Shel sent Willie Neal and Annalise a list of old country tunes stating that “none of these have been recorded in at least 40 years” and that “a new recording of any of them would be well received.” “We wanted to choose all of the songs he sent, honestly but we knew our time and budget would be limited so we picked two with the thought that we could put out a 45. Even though we’d spoken to him on the phone and were emailing ideas back and forth, it was still very hard for us to believe that this was actually happening,” noted Neal.
The Atlanta-based duo are signed to Austin indie label Chicken Ranch Records and their self booked touring schedule sees them playing 150-200 gigs per year. With this huge opportunity dangling before them, the band very sensibly booked themselves a tour to get themselves from Georgia to California in mid-June, hitting Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona along the way. Not even a small COVID pause could deter these honky tonk Americana rising stars.
Once in Los Angeles, the session was engineered by Grammy award winning guitar player, composer, engineer and songwriter Johnny Lee Schell whose tremendous resume includes work with Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, BB King and Delbert McClinton amongst others. His state-of-the-art home studio in Studio City, California is where the sessions took place. “I was sick with nerves the whole ride there. I thought for sure we were in over our heads,” Annalise begins and Neal continues, “We walked through the studio door to the players already setting up and shuffling around. In a room full of talent that was well deserving of ego, we found nothing but welcome arms and got right to work.”
The Waymores spent two days at Schell’s studio recording Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” and Buck Owens’ “Under Your Spell.” Then something a bit magical happened. Everybody fell in love with what was supposed to be a small project and it turned into a BIG project – what would become The Waymores third studio album, Greener Pastures. “We left the session for the two songs and knew we had to come back but didn’t know if we could make it happen,” Neal says. Annalise continues “We got home and just wrote and wrote and wrote. (continues over)
Then we called on friends to write with us. We wanted everything to be in the same vein as the two covers we had already done.” It all came together in the end and the project is some of The Waymores’ best work to date and the pair give most of the credit to the studio musicians.s
The players on the sessions included Dave Pearlman on steel guitar (Merle Haggard, Hoyt Axton, Phil Everly, Chuck Berry, and more and creator of Pearlman Microphones), Terry Wilson on bass on Under Your Spell and Don’t Worry (Alejandro Escovedo, Townes Van Zandt and others), James “Hutch” Hutchinson on bass for the other 8 tracks (Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King and the late David Crosby amongst 100;s of others), the aptly named Phil Parlapiano on keys (Joan Baez, John Prine, Rod Stewart) and drummer Tony Braunagel (studio work with Grammy winning albums of Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy and live work with BB King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Lyle Lovett and more). Tony and Terry were also in the house studio band for Island Records.
All 10 tracks were recorded live, which was a first for The Waymores but as they state, “It will be the standard from here on out.” Annalise notes, “We still looked down every now and then to make sure our feet were touching the floor. The caliber of musicians in that room had the potential to be wildly intimidating but we were so welcomed and treated as equals. The whole experience was one that we will cherish for the rest of our days and the outcome is something of which we are beyond proud.”
The Waymores say that they’ve never had a more collaborative album than this one. An initial listen to Greener Pastures reveals soaring harmonies, top notch musicianship, indelible choruses for the three covers as well as inspiring originals with a comfortably memorable feel. Annalise and Neal enlisted the help of dear friend and the “best songwriter in Austin right now” Johnny McGowan for two of the tracks.
“Johnny sent an email with half a dozen demos of songs that he’d written and never released and we knew right out of the gate that we wanted at least a couple of them. We took what he had and changed a thing here or there, with his permission of course, turned “Tavern Time” into a duet and “Hill Country Waltz” became Kira’s homage to Tammy Wynette.” says Neal. Annalise says that she channeled Tammy throughout the vocal recording and feels like “we wound up with a take where I almost don’t recognize my own voice. It’s by far the best song I’ve ever sung.”
When it came down to the wire and The Waymores had their last song nearly in the bag, they called on Johnny, again, to fine tune “Greener Pastures.” As Neal recalls, “We had most of it done but we knew that Johnny could give it a special touch and he hadn’t let us down yet.” The three put their pens to paper and fingers to keyboard, tweaking the title track until they all felt like it was complete, then sent it to Shel.
Thanks to wonderful teamwork and the synching of man, moment and machine, The Waymores have created their third studio album and finest release to date. Enjoy!