Rayland Baxter – If I Were a Butterfly
Rayland Baxter first appeared on my radar with 2015’s Invisible Man; at that time, I didn’t catch the bug. I found Invisible Man to lean too much into an 80’s Paul Simon vibe as it danced a fine line between silliness and sincerity.
Wide Awake in 2018 followed with a doubled down on the silliness while expanding his musical pallet to more adventurous and broadly Americana vistas as Baxter took a swipe at the absurdity of life with whimsical arrangements and purposely playful vocals. Wide Awake stayed on repeat on all my music listening devices for quite some time.
On If I Were a Butterfly Baxter has moved on yet again to broader musical terrain informed by the late-70’s funk of Baxter’s youth while simultaneously continuing to his attuned balance of playfulness and genuineness as he reflects on deeper meanings and purposes of life in wake of a pandemic, the death of his father, and evokes a wiser turn from Baxter. Primarily recorder while Baxter was living in an abandoned rubber band factory turned into Thunder Sound studio, If I Were a Butterfly plays out like an extended audio diary with childhood tapes, field recordings, live intimate moments, and orchestrated sessions working together to produce work emblematic of a master craftsman who has maintained the wonder of beginner’s mind.
Baxter’s search for magic in the mundane continues as does his childlike wonderment. The title track opens with a recording of Baxter as a child singing from a bounty of innocence and joy; this energy carries throughout the album. With “If I Were A Butterfly,” Baxter establishes the guiding question for the record as well as he sings, “why do we live and die, why are we together tonight”, why is the fleeting moment so fleeting, why can’t we appreciate it while it is here? Life lived in the moment dominates themes here expressed in a cacophony of horns ascending throughout the extended funk outro of “Butterfly.”
“Billy Goat” follows with a misdirection intro before dropping in a bass driven groove. “I want more for you, I want more for you than you,” Baxter declares before asking, “what am I supposed to do?” The tale of Chocolate Chester in “Buckwheat” is another standout track with its meandering and dark line running throughout.
On “Tadpole” Baxter embodies the position of the quintessential 70’s balladeer with honey sweet vocals over big brooding piano chords. “Dirty Knees” continues with the same AM gold soundscape via a strutting drum and swaying saxophone.
“Graffiti Street” begins with a whimsical scene before the listener realizes there’s more reason to cry than laugh, “No surprise when I met you last week, you were butt naked dancing out on Graffiti Street…Late night and I can’t sleep all I do is mumble oh my god in repeat, I want to throw my head in to a pillow and scream.” Frustration and a near-miss emotional breakdown never sounded so sweet.
On If I Were a Butterfly, Rayland Baxter continues to expand his sonic and songwriting pallet. His reflections on the darker and harder sides of life do little to hide his buoyant temperament and love for the journey of life. As if in response to his quandary over life, death, and the purpose of now, on “Thunder Sound” Baxter answers, “You know what I want, I want a brand-new feeling.” The desire for and willingness to search for that “brand-new feeling…until it feels right” will hopefully continue to push Baxter to new sonic and lyrical heights in years to come.
If I Were a Butterfly is another great addition to an already solid catalogue from Rayland Baxter. If I Were a Butterfly is out now via ATO Records; give a listen today! https://www.raylandbaxter.com
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Rayland Baxter’s Wide Awake Is His Best Yet