When Rayland Baxter dropped out of college after a knee injury ended his athletic career, his father had some atypical advice for him.
Most dads in that situation would put their son in touch with someone in a position to hire him right away: A friend at a bank or a factory.
Rayland’s dad told his son to learn how to play the guitar.
It was good advice.
Rayland will prove just how good that advice was when he performs at the Brass Rail on Jan. 15.
Rayland Baxter is often described an “alternative country artist.” But that label no better describes what he does than “synergy-related head count restructuring” describes workers being fired.
Baxter is a singer-songwriter whose multifarious work recalls that of Marshall Crenshaw in his prime. He doesn’t just write country. He writes everything. He writes everything all at once and it defies categorization.
The career advice given by Rayland’s dad makes more sense when you find out that his dad is renowned pedal steel guitarist Bucky Baxter.
Despite that pedigree, Rayland admits that had more interest in sports than music as a kid.
But don’t call him a jock.
“Some say ‘jock.’ I say ‘dude jock,’” Rayland said, in a phone interview. “I always had the dude in me.”
Bucky Baxter performed with R.E.M., Steve Earle, Joe Henry, and Bob Dylan when Rayland was growing up, but the first CD that Rayland was given as a kid was by Megadeth. But when his mom saw it, he insisted they take it back and exchange it.
Thus it was that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ended up being Rayland’s first CD instead of heavy metal.
“Even if I’d kept that (Megadeth) CD, they would never have allowed me to be influenced by them,” Rayland said. “But, you know, (expletive). I wish I had paid more attention to Megadeth growing up. They’re a radical band.”
About a decade ago, Rayland helped his dad out as a guitar tech on a tour and his father suggested that they both go visit a friend in Israel.
It was in that country that Rayland discovered himself as a songwriter. Rayland ended up staying six months.
Rayland said there was something magical about the desert.
“I was 24,” he said. “I didn’t finish college but I was done with college for the time being. I had nowhere else that I needed to go. So it was a perfect scenario. I didn’t have to pay rent. I could stay at my dad’s best friend’s place and write and be around musicians, especially the host.
“This guy is essentially my dad’s brother, a non-blood brother,” Rayland said of a man he declined to name. “I was under his watchful eye and ear. He has incredible musical taste. He is a genius and an angel of a human being and a very wise man.”
eschewing the alt country label
These days, Rayland’s bona fides are well-established thanks to three highly acclaimed albums.
Rayland said that he too has heard himself described as “alternative country” and he agrees that it isn’t accurate.
Rayland admires true alt-country artists like Steve Earle, but he said he wants to make use of a wider palette of sounds than that label suggests.
“I want to have more of DaVinci’s tool belt,” he said. “Which I think I’ve shown from my first album, which was singer-songwriter but there was still some fuzz on it. And on the second album, things became more electric and lush. And the third album was essentially a pop album.”
Ultimately, Rayland said he doesn’t care what people call him.
“People can call me a Polish, scientific, paranormal, rock n’ roll monk as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “As long as they come to the show and like the music.”
Rayland said he loves being on the road.
“I’ve always been a nomad,” he said. “My dad and I took long trips when I was a kid, like cross-country. I lived in six different houses before I graduated high school.
“I like playing shows,” Rayland said. “I like becoming a better musician. It’s a lot of hard work in a different type of way than lifting hay bales. You have to battle challenges in the pursuit of maintaining a healthy mind and body.”
Sharing his music with a receptive audience creates “a whirlpool of reciprocal energy,” he said.
It’s so rewarding for everybody involved that “now I’m trapped,” Rayland said, laughing.