When youthful passion and timeless songs intersect, it’s a creative crossroads where everything old seems new again. That’s definitely the case with husband and wife country duo Alyssa & Wayne Brewer’s new album Alyssa and Wayne Sing George and Tammy, due for release on Friday, September 15.
Wayne Brewer, a sixth-generation musician well-known for his work with Gary Brewer & The Kentucky Ramblers, and his talented wife Alyssa teamed to salute country legends George Jones and Tammy Wynette. The Brewer’s debut album finds the couple covering such well known classics as the first single, “Golden Ring” and “We’re Gonna Hold On” in addition to lesser known gems like “Rosie Bokay.”
Wayne and Alyssa approached the project with equal amounts of unbridled enthusiasm and humble trepidation. “We committed and agreed to do our debut release as a tribute to the two best country singers of all time. It was a major undertaking,” Wayne recalls. “We did all these in the original keys that George and Tammy cut them in, except I did ‘Rosie Bokay’ as a nod to Bobby Osborne, who cut it up a key high. All the rest of the songs are in the original keys, which I thought was important.”
Married since 2015, Wayne says recording a duet album has been a goal since he and Alyssa began dating, but other career demands kept them busy. Wayne not only performs with the Ramblers, but is also CEO of SGM (Stretch Grass Music) and Alyssa serves as COO of the label. Eventually, the couple found time to get in the studio and recorded the Townes Van Zandt classic “If I Needed You,” a song they had sung to each other at their wedding. The combination of Wayne’s earnest approach and Alyssa’s achingly vulnerable vocals earned them instant fans.
A friend at SGM’s distribution company, Sony/The Orchard, encouraged them to record an entire album and suggested they revive the Jones/Wynette catalog. Both Wayne and Alyssa had grown up listening to the country music icons and the project seemed a natural fit. “We’ve always been big fans of theirs, but who isn’t? Everybody knows George’s range was unlike anybody’s that ever has been or ever will be, so it was an undertaking,” Wayne says.
Yet the couple rose to the challenge, even though they were recording at the same time they were adjusting to being first-time parents. “After we had a baby, we started working on it when she was a newborn, so we waited until we had the least amount of time to start this,” Alyssa laughs about the challenging circumstances. “This was only my second time ever in the studio, but I had a lot of guidance from Wayne because he’s been producing so many albums over the years.”
Alyssa and Wayne Sing George and Tammy became a labor of love for the young couple and the recording sessions were intimate and emotional with Wayne alone in the control room and Alyssa singing directly to him. “I said, ‘I’ll sit on the board, and you’ll be in the tracking room, looking right at me through the glass. I’ll track all your vocals with you singing directly to me,’” he recalls. “So that’s how this was cut, and I feel like you can hear that in the album.”
Indeed, there’s a tender intimacy to such love songs as “All I Have to Offer You is Me” and the heartbreak of “Someone I Used to Know” sounds palpable. Alyssa’s voice is an achingly beautiful instrument, combining Wynette’s tear-in-the throat delivery with a sweet vulnerability reminiscent of a young Dolly Parton. Though she possesses some of the timeless qualities of her heroes, and Wayne’s admiration for his influences is reflected in the production, the couple deliver a finely crafted project that never veers into imitation, but remains rooted in their own unique gifts.
In addition to such duets as “Southern California” and “Two Story House,” the couple also shine as they take individual turns. Alyssa delivers a sassy rendition of Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and Wayne serves up a personality-packed cover of “Rosie Bokay.” “Our goal with this was to bring George and Tammy’s legacy to the new generation,” Wayne shares. “Just like bell bottoms and vinyl albums, everything comes back into style. Young people love this stuff, but it’s all in the way you present it, so we wanted to present it in a modern way with a little flare but still give the original feel and that vintage vibe.”
To accomplish that goal, Wayne had to carefully walk the line between vintage style and modern accessibility, so as he and his brother Mason worked on the production, everything was recorded with the listener in mind. “We cut everything with period correct microphones just like the same time period that they would have used then, all tube mics and tube preamps and everything. Then we mixed all that digitally with the best technology that money could buy nowadays. Back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, the main difference was everything was just more treble and less bass because they didn’t have subs,” says Wayne, whose great grandfather played with the original Carter Family in the 1920s. “This still has the vintage thing, but it has the low end as well that everybody likes today so it will stand with modern country on the radio as a whole, but it’s the old style that we’re trying to respect and move forward with.”
It’s that reverence for tradition combined with the exuberance of two twentysomethings reveling in the music that shaped their identities that makes Alyssa and Wayne Sing George and Tammy such a sonic delight. To fully realize their creative vision, the Brewers enlisted a talented cadre of like-minded musicians, among them Blake Shelton’s fiddler player Jenee Fleenor, the Brewer family patriarch Gary Brewer on guitar(s) and Charlie Crockett’s steel guitarist Nathan Fleming.
Wayne even recruited a former member of the metal band Motionless in White to play piano on a couple of songs. “I was performing at the Bourbon and Beyond festival in Louisville and I met this young man who was wearing about an 8-inch pair of Gothic looking black platform boots,” Wayne recalls of meeting Josh Balz. “He’s bald and has 2-inch gauge earrings with the colored part of his eyes blacked out. He was a really strange-looking character. He was interviewing us, and we became friends instantly as I’ve been known to be somewhat strange myself. I texted him telling him about the album and asked him if he could play country style piano. He started naming all his favorite George and Tammy songs. So he ended up playing piano on
‘Someone I Used to Know’ and ‘We’re Gonna Hold On.’ He did a great job, and it was an honor to have him!”
Wayne and Alyssa feel like Balz’s participation just underscores their belief that everyone is a George and Tammy fan. “I feel like it’s important for people to see that this kind of music appeals to everyone,”
Wayne says. “It doesn’t matter what walk of life or where you come from, how much money you have, race, gender, beliefs… it’s timeless.”
Alyssa agrees, and the Kentucky-native brings her varied influences to her interpretations of these country classics. “I listened to Tammy and Dolly a lot growing up, but I also listened to hip-hop and pop,” the 26-year-old states. “I always had George Jones because my dad listened to him, but I had different people in other genres that influenced how I sang like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. I loved listening to Carrie. I used to sing all her music and I watched her on American Idol so when it comes to influences, I’ve had some different ones.”
With the recent mini-series about the life of George Jones and Tammy Wynette, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and the recent multi-artist tribute concert starring Jelly Roll, Brad Paisley, Tracy Lawrence among others that is slated to be a television special this fall, interest in George and Tammy’s music is at an all-time high. The Brewers’ lovingly crafted album is poised to warm the hearts of longtime fans and kindle interest from a new generation hungry to embrace timeless songs delivered with fresh passion.
“Me and Alyssa hand-picked every person that plays on this album and that’s why I feel that it’s unique,”
says Wayne, who notably is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the youngest person to be on the Opry at just 18 months old. “George Jones and Tammy Wynette are unrivaled as the two best country singers of all time and that’s why we wanted to do this. Even though this is a George Jones and Tammy Wynette tribute, it’s different because we let these incredible musicians have their own way with these songs. It’s definitely a supergroup that helped us bring these songs to life for a whole new generation.”
Deborah Evans Price – Billboard Magazine/Rolling Stone Magazine