Southgate House Revival, 111 E 6th St, Newport, KY
Free, 9pm show
On their sophomore album, Stone Sessions, The Waymores play authentic country music with an Americana flourish, combining elements of folk, blues and Honky Tonk into an instantly recognizable sound. Willie Heath Neal’s husky baritone and the warm alto of Kira Annalise compliment each other perfectly. Their lush harmonies, and down home lyrics echo the classic work of Conway and Loretta and Johnny and June Carter. On stage, the duo has an easy-going sense of humor that makes every crowd feel like a room full of old friends.
The singing, songwriting and guitar-playing duo met 14 years ago at a bar in their home state of Georgia. “We were singing covers in a freewheeling ensemble called the No Count Palookas,” Annalise recalled. “We both had touring bands, which can stretch you financially. After years of struggling, we finally decided to collaborate and play locally, as a duo, when we weren’t on the road. The more we performed together, we knew we had something special. We’ve been at it ever since.”
A cover version video they made of the John Prine/Iris DeMent song “In Spite of Ourselves” earned the duo some followers. That was followed by their first recording, the Weeds EP, which was cut live in the studio with members of their touring band. For The Stone Sessions, they enlisted the help of producer, songwriter and pedal steel player, Steve Stone. Most of the songs were written during the pandemic lockdown and the album was produced and recorded in 2020. Annalise and Neal recorded their acoustic guitars and vocals in the studio and sent the tracks to the other musicians with Stone adding pedal steel and final polishing. The result has the feel of a live session, crackling with energy and driven by the duo’s robust vocals.
Highlights from the new album include “Even When,” a rocker describing the lingering hold a self-destructive relationship can have, even years after it’s over. The brisk backbeat and concise guitar and steel solos give the tune a cheerful feel, contrasting nicely with the distressing lyrics. “Die Right Here” has the discreet stomp of a Waylon Jennings ballad, highlighted by sighing steel and twangy guitar fills.
Their friend Anders Thomson wrote “I Don’t Like the Liquor” with an arrangement that tips a hat to Bob Wills and Asleep At The Wheel. Katie Shore from Asleep At The Wheel is featured on fiddle on the track “Caught,” a cheatin’ song showcasing the duo’s exceptional vocal harmonies. That track was penned by Dale Watson who also appears on the song.
Willie Heath Neal’s biography could have come from a novel. “I was born in a police car. When I wasn’t in foster care, I lived with my mother. She sang in country bands and listened to nothing but Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. I was a wild teenager and joined the Navy to escape my hometown.” Neal played guitar and wrote songs in his rebellious years. In the Navy,
he started a band. “We were always at sea, but the USO found us gigs in ports. We made our debut at a bar in Singapore. We were terrible, but the crowd went nuts. I knew right then what I was going to do with my life.” After leaving the service, Neal played guitar and stand up bass in punk, country, honky tonk and psychobilly bands. He started his own outfit, The Damned Ol Opry, blending his influences into a hard hitting sound all his own. “I played country, but made it super rowdy. Country rock if you will.” He made five albums and toured continually but, just before he met Annalise, he was burning out.
Kira Annalise was a new mom when she began singing. Initially signing on for one show with her brother’s band in 2006, this turned into continuous shows over a couple of years due to her unexpectedly falling in love with live performance at her second gig. She met Willie in 2007 and
and had the thought “I want everything that is on stage right now. Him, the music, everything.”
She learned a few chords on guitar from watching her future partner play in The No Count Palookas (a side project where she was just singing). Soon after, Kira began writing, forming her own bands and cutting her teeth in and around Atlanta. The No Count Palookas continued being a side hustle for Kira and Willie while they continued having full bands separately until forming The Waymores in 2013. Initially the duo did only local tour runs but branched out cross country all the way to Arizona in 2018 and followed up the following year with UK and European touring.
The duo’s love story parallels their musical path. It was slow to start but they have now been together for 13 years. Willie was determined to stay single because he was used to being alone but she fought for him and put in the effort. The first years were tumultuous with Willie touring most of the days and Kira trying to balance music and toddler life but they survived them for a reason and part of that reason is The Waymores. “We got tired of coming home broke after paying our musicians,” Willie said. “Paying our bills was the inspiration at first, but the more we played together, and wrote together, the more we fell in love with each other and with performing together.”
The duo produce, book and manage themselves and love being on the road. This strong and dedicated indie work ethic has led to touring 200 days per year (pre-pandemic), 100,000 All Time streams on Spotify, several awards and Kira being sought after by a huge booking agency for her touring and routing skills. As the world continues to open up, so will The Waymores live schedule.
The proof is in the pudding, or should we say the touring vehicle: “Some people assume it’s hard touring together as a couple and living out of a van for more than half the year. It’s not for us. If we’re home too long, we start to get snippy with each other. Once we’re on the road, life is blissful. He’s my best friend and I’m truly honored to be working alongside him.”