by Lee Shook ::
It’s no secret that there is a bright, fresh new crop of talented singer-songwriters arising from the deep shadows and vaunted history of Nashville’s iconic skyline. From Music City natives like Caitlin Rose to transplanted troubadours like Texas-born Andrew Combs and Robert Ellis, “dad country” crooner Jonny Fritz, the blazed out Americana of Aaron Lee Tasjan, and 5 Spot aficionado Derek Hoke, there has been a veritable explosion of incredibly gifted wordsmiths bringing their art to bear on a town awash with world class musicians. And with such an abundance of craftsmanship overflowing every corner of the city (think Jack White, Jason Isbell, and the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard) it’s inevitably hard to stand out in the crowd. Fortunately for Rayland Baxter, whose confluence of good genes and lyrical acumen have made him a standout in the new wave of artists sweeping down the banks of the Cumberland River in recent years, it’s all part of a family bond that started early in his life learning to pick alongside his father.
As the son of Bucky Baxter— pedal steel companion to the likes of Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, and Ryan Adams— he’s had the patrilineal propensity embedded deep within his being despite an early aversion to taking up his old man’s mantle as a musician. Having initially been drawn to the world of lacrosse during his college days at Loyola University, after suffering career-ending injuries that sidelined any further interest in the sport, he would find himself exploring the world of sound that his father had successfully turned into a career so many years before.
A natural-born itinerant with a penchant for wanderlust that has seen him live everywhere from Louisiana and Colorado to Israel and now Nashville (he was actually born right down the road in Bon Aqua, TN), Rayland’s world-weary travelogues have garnered him critical praise from everyone from NPR and Rolling Stone Country to Jambase and American Songwriter. Having followed up his debut LP Feathers & Fishhooks on ATO Records with the well-rounded Imaginary Man in 2015, Baxter has been growing in leaps and bounds both in the studio as well as on the road, and has seen his audiences increase every step of the way with tours alongside The Civil Wars and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals helping to rally people to his cause. And with a songwriting range that allows him to traverse broken-hearted laments and tributes to Sixto Rodriguez with an easy gait reflective of his free-spirited personality and lifestyle, Baxter is also capable of turning out barn-burning scorchers like the screaming gypsy soul of “Young Man” that find him stepping into a lysergic twin guitar attack worthy of heavier psychedelic acts like The Black Angels or even My Morning Jacket. As he’s just released a new EP of acoustic readings of songs from Imaginary Man containing a beautiful cover of MMJ’s “Bermuda Highway”— the great Soho EP recorded at Dean St. Studios in London, former haunt of David Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti— it’s a natural connection to make.
With a versatility that encompasses both plaintive missives and thunderous, jam-infused rock, there’s more to Rayland than initially meets the eye (and ear) and has him poised to be a sensation among both songwriting purists and the Bonnaroo crowd, where he’ll be making his second appearance this summer (he’ll be making his first big tent appearance after a debut performance in 2013 on one of the smaller “new artists” stages) as he makes his way around the country living out a bohemian dream as a high desert Deadhead drifter in search of new kicks. It’s a badge he wears with pride and one that finds no better outlet than in this live recording from Saturn in Birmingham, AL. Enjoy.