Some roots rock performers go far out of their way to convince you of their down-home bona fides, but Rayland Baxter's music sounds as easily and unaffectedly Southern as a glass of sweet iced tea enjoyed on the back porch on a warm and slightly humid day. There's not a lot of twang in Baxter's music (or his voice), but his melodies and arrangements are evocative in the manner of a good novel, painting a vivid portrait of time and place, and there's a laid-back but emotionally powerful vibe to his lyrics and vocals that's smart but unpretentious, and generates a sense of drama that feels low key on the surface, but inside is as potent as vintage Tennessee Williams. Rayland Baxter's second album, 2015's Imaginary Man, shows he's not afraid of being a grand-scale romantic, portraying himself as a regretful heartbreaker on "Yellow Eyes," painting regret in several different colors in "Mother Mother," and opening up his heart on "Rugged Lovers" and "All in My Head.
On the cover of Rayland Baxter’s 2012 debut album, the Nashville folk singer portrays himself as a longhaired, mustachioed rambler with holes in the elbows of his denim shirt. He’s covering his eyes in the “see-no-evil” pose, but on feathers & fishHooks, Baxter confronts some of those troubles of lost love and foolish actions through fingerpicked guitar ballads full of honest admissions. Three years later, Baxter cleaned up for his second album cover.
Three years ago, Nashville native Rayland Baxter released his debut album feathers & fishHooks to enthusiastic acclaim, pinning him as an up-and-comer in the same tier as tourmate and similarly left-of-Nashville-center artist Kacey Musgraves. The response was deserved. Though there were clumsy moments on those twelve tracks (Thinking of shortening Philadelphia to “Philadelph” to force a rhyme? Don’t.), Baxter showed an unusually keen ear for arrangement.