Transcendental Troubadour: Rayland Baxter is a master of the mountain metaphor.
Rayland Baxter grew up as a self-declared “little country boy,” running around the rolling green hills of Tennessee an hour outside of Nashville. At first, music was just in his periphery. His father, multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter, is a well-reputed sideman, who toured for years with Bob Dylan and has recorded with Steve Earle, R.E.M., and Ryan Adams. As a kid, Rayland was too busy playing sports to notice, but then in college he was bitten by the songwriting bug.
In late August, what he calls a gradual organic process toward building a catalog of songs yielded a debut album, Feathers and Fishhooks, released on ATO Records.
“It’s about the natural progress of how these songs came together,” Baxter says. “The album is my tackle box, and I have songs for different types of feelings—murky water or clear water.”
Indeed, Baxter seems to equate all of his emotions with the natural world around him. In the sparsely finger-picked, front porch style ballad “Olivia” he laments a dysfunctional relationship but still finds love in unexpected places, singing, “I can taste it when the wind blows in, and I can see it hiding on the mountainside.”
Baxter’s favorite part of being a traveling troubadour is the opportunity to wander the woods by day and play on stage at night. During a recent phone conversation, he relays that he just finished a run of shows in beach towns with ex-pro surfer turned singer-songwriter Donavan Frankenreiter. It’s both soul-quenching satisfaction and occupational research.
“That’s my life outside of playing music,” he says. “When I’m not on stage, I’m usually hiking or jumping into rivers. That’s where I get most of my inspiration. The changing of seasons is like a changing of emotions and a bad relationship looks like muddy water. These are basic analogies, but that’s where I see it all.”
While his lyrics are laced in Kerouac-inspired wanderlust, Baxter’s sound blends dusty roots rock and hook-driven melodies. You hear the free-range barefoot folk of Jack Johnson’s Brushfire crew as well as the twang of Music City influence. He sites old legends like Leonard Cohen, Harry Nilson, and Townes Van Zandt as his indirect teachers, but he’s also just as likely to be listening to the Shins. It’s why he’s meshed well with a range of different artists from Frankenreiter to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, whom he’ll be supporting during big shows this month at the Tabernacle in Atlanta and the Orange Peel in Asheville.
“Good lyrics and good melodies are what I get off on,” Baxter says. “When people hear my songs, I hope they sound familiar and fresh—like something good they haven’t heard in a while.”
Yep Roc Turns 15
Yep Roc Records, the venerable independent label based in the old mill town of Haw River, N.C., will celebrate 15 years this month with a three-night music showcase at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. The label has international reach and a well-respected cult status for boldly releasing the work of a variety of artists from different genres. From the rockabilly of the Rev. Horton Heat to the folk rock of Nick Lowe to the experimental pop of the Minus 5, the label has built an impressive catalog of successful eclectic musicians. Over three days, the show in Carrboro will feature performances by label members past and present, including Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock, Fountains of Wayne, Josh Rouse, John Doe, the Sadies, Chuck Prophet, Liam Finn, Los Straitjackets, Dave Alvin, and Chatham County Line.
moogfest returns to Asheville
A stacked lineup of electronica and experimental rock acts will invade Asheville once again for the annual Moogfest. Cutting back to two days this year (October 26-27), the event will still feature over 30 bands performing at the indoor festival that utilizes five of the city’s biggest venues, including the U.S. Cellular Center Arena, Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and the Orange Peel. Headliners on the bill include Primus (performing a special show in 3D), Orbital, Mike Snow, Santigold, Explosions in the Sky, and the Magnetic Fields. The event honors late sonic innovator Bob Moog, who developed a range of experimental instruments and called Asheville home for 30 years. moogfest.com