Rayland Baxter’s new album is a dream realised. Since he first started writing music, this roving rock ‘n’ roll philosopher dreamed of a space where he could devote every waking hour to creating. The hard-touring musician finally found it in the form of an abandoned rubber band factory in Franklin, KY, where he covered the windows, threw a mattress on the floor, and with guitar and piano in tow, spent three straight months writing. At night he would sit and listen to the sounds around him: coyotes, the howling wind, the faint prattle of the nightly TV news.
The result of this isolation quest is ‘Wide Awake’ (July 13/ATO Records) a ten-song collection that celebrates the best aspects of humanity and grasps at understanding the worst.
“This is an album about decision making,” Baxter explains. “It’s about being a human at the crossroads. Do I do good or do I do evil? Do I lie or do I tell the truth? Am I going to be happy or am I going to be sad? All of these questions and emotions are things I see in myself, and they’re the same things I see in everyone else no matter where I go.”
‘Wide Awake’ was produced by Butch Walker and features Walker himself on bass, Cage the Elephant’s Nick Bockrath on guitar, Dr. Dog’s Erick Slick on drums, and piano wizard Aaron Embry (Elliott Smith, Brian Eno) on keys. Rayland’s father Bucky Baxtercontributes pedal steel, as does original Nashville Cat Lloyd Green.
‘Wide Awake’ runs the gamut from intensely personal to cutting social satire. On lead single “Casanova,” Rayland imagines student debt as a greedy girlfriend, admitting, “I got a real bad feeling ima let her down / got a hole in my pocket and I’m running around.” Album opener “Strange American Dream” was written around the time of the 2016 election and takes a hard look at the country’s values, while “79 Shiny Revolvers” skewers our national fixation with guns. “Hey Larocco” represents the first time Rayland has written about a crucial event in his own life, one that proved to be pivotal, leading him down the path to becoming a musician.
Rayland has toured with Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, The Lumineers and more, and has multiple songs with over 10 million plays on Spotify. He wrote and performed on Shakey Graves’ new album, is opening some of the shows on his upcoming tour, and will perform with him at Red Rocks in August. He has also played festivals like Bonnaroo and Newport Folk. Stereogum praised his 2015 album ‘Imaginary Man’ as “an impeccable breakout” while NPR hailed its lead single as “close to perfect.”