Rayland Baxter: Wide Awake
With Wide Awake Nashville’s Rayland Baxter capitalizes on the potential he displayed on his impressive 2012 debut, feathers and fishHooks , and the excellent Imaginary Man in 2015—The album is bound to be one of the year’s best rock records. All the ingredients are there—intelligently crafted storytelling lyrics and immediately memorable melodies, as well as a living, breathing studio sound and enough raucous rockers and hushed folk tunes to keep everyone satisfied. Baxter’s collection of likely sonic influences is bulletproof: the crisp pop-rock of The Kinks, the weary-soul guitar of Tom Petty and the cinematic heartbreak of early Ryan Adams. The singer-songwriter mixes those sounds and more into a style very much his own, delivering his tunes with a loose, playful vocal style that suggests he’d be the guy to buy the whole bar one last round. Dr. Dog’s Eric Slick takes on percussion duties, and Butch Walker handles the bass. This is warm, earthy rockand-roll for big, joyous sing-alongs. Opener “Strange American Dream” presents a perfect bar band anthem (jangling keys, bluesy guitar), and Baxter is bittersweet as he lights up the chorus: “The whole world is wired up on the red, white and the green/ and all the boys and girls are growin’ up in a strange American dream.” He continues the critique on the scathing “79 Shiny Revolvers,” singing, “You really wanna save the world, man/ well I wanna save it, too/ We can blow ‘em away/ the American way—79 shiny revolvers.” This is modern, American rock music at its finest.