Sound Advice: Rayland Baxter

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click to enlarge Rayland Baxter
Rayland Baxter

DNA is no guarantee of talent — sometimes it skips a generation; sometimes the progeny of the musically gifted rebel against any expectations heaped upon them. But when the children of greatness embrace their roots and use them as a starting point to chart their own unique path, the results can be breathtaking.

That could easily describe the situation of Rayland Baxter, whose father, multi-instrumentalist Bucky Baxter, has sessioned and toured with Bob Dylan, Steve Forbert, Ryan Adams, R.E.M., Steve Earle, Joe Henry and many others. Like many musical offspring, Baxter came to his creative epiphany after a long and conscious avoidance of what could be perceived as his legacy. As a child, he was exposed to his father’s work and his mother’s church singing, and a good deal of popular music. Baxter focused on lacrosse at Loyola, but found his musical horizons expanding exponentially during his college experience, which led him to take up guitar and play in a cover band. Knee injuries prevented him from pursuing sports, and after being kicked out of Loyala for a year, he returned to Nashville and briefly moved in with his father, who suggested he should write songs after hearing him whistle along to the Polyphonic Spree while chopping wood.

After finishing college, Baxter moved to Colorado and began writing songs and playing an open mic night, which was followed by a stint in Israel and an even greater dedication to songwriting.

Upon Baxter’s return to Nashville in 2010, he teamed up with producer Eric Masse and recorded his debut EP, as well as the track “Shanghai Cigarettes” with Caitlin Rose. After a good deal of touring, Baxter signed with ATO Records and released his first full-length, 2012’s Feathers & Fishhooks, followed by the ashkeLon EP in 2013 and then his sophomore album, last year’s Imaginary Man.

It’s not hard to hear the traditionalist values of the likes of Dylan and Townes Van Zandt in Baxter’s work, in addition to the contemporary atmospherics of fellow fathers’ sons Jakob Dylan and Jeff Buckley. For all the sonic markers that can be attributed to Baxter, his songs are his fingerprint, gorgeous evocations of the balance between love and loss, home and road, freedom and responsibility. Lacrosse’s loss is our beautiful gain.

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