Rayland Baxter: If I Were a Butterfly
Rayland Baxter, the Tennessee-bred singer-songwriter, has been making excellent pop-rock and folk records just under the radar for a decade. But he’s been hinting at his inner freak for a while. First came his 2019 EP of reverb-drenched Mac Miller covers, and now he’s finally delivered on the promise of something wonderfully weird—his fourth LP, If I Were a Butterfly. It’s an album that winds and twists unexpectedly—twirling through circus-psychedelia a la late-era Tom Waits (“Buckwheat”), loose and flowing, heartfelt jazz-pop (“Dirty Knees”) and echoing piano ballads (“Violence”) all with the same playful but earnest devotion. Baxter is a servant to his songs here, and each sonic choice—even if they make for a varied and freewheeling album—feels like it was made with love. Baxter wrote the record in the Kentucky countryside, holed up in a former rubberband factory searching for inspiration; that openness shows brilliantly across the resulting album. On the aptly-titled “Thunder Sound,” Baxter hollers—to the sky, seemingly—“Yeah, you know what I want?/ I want a brand new feeling,” as his guitar cracks like lightning and lumbering percussion pounds. That’s the sentiment he captures on If I Were a Butterfly; this is the sound of a musician searching high and low for what excites him, finding it and laying it down in the studio. Though the album is thoroughly him, Baxter assembled quite a crew to make these songs: Shakey Graves, members of Cage the Elephant and Alabama Shakes, and his father, Bob Dylan-backing pedal steel player Bucky Baxter, who passed away in 2020. It’s a family affair—a celebration of Baxter’s journey from folk to freak.