Personnel: Rayland Baxter (guitar); Butch Walker (vocals, guitar, percussion); Nick Bockrath (vocals, guitar); Aaron Embry (vocals, keyboards); Emily Crawford, Lennon Stella, Katie Schecter, Misa Arriaga, Ryan A. Keith (vocals); Rob Moose (strings); Eric Slick (drums); Bobbye Hall (percussion).
Audio Mixers: Collin Dupuis; Michael Brauer.
Liner Note Author: Rayland Baxter.
Recording information: Music City U.S.A, Nashville, TN; Ruby Red, Santa Monica, CA.
Tennessee native Rayland Baxter's songs weave a path between country, folk, classic singer/songwriter, straight-ahead rock, and a kind of Nilsson-ian/Beatlesque pop. A scion of Nashville (his father is notable pedal steel man Bucky Baxter), the influence of Music City has played a consistent role throughout his life and career, particularly on the rustic roots pop of his 2012 debut, Feathers & Fishhooks, as well as on his more robust, rock-oriented follow-up, 2015's Imaginary Man. With Wide Awake, Baxter's third LP, he offers a personal and social statement that manages to transcend his home turf while remaining uniquely American. Following a bout of heavy touring, the wayward singer rented an abandoned rubber-band factory in Kentucky in late 2016 and devoted himself to a solitary period of intense writing and reflection. Rather than leaving his hermitage with the kind of introspective stripped-down acoustic record that might be expected, he instead fled to the West Coast to make a wily rock & roll album that wryly philosophizes about human behavior and the chaotic nature of Trump-era America. With a crack band led by the album's producer, Butch Walker (Weezer, P!nk), Wide Awake is anchored by the excellent "Strange American Dream," an expansive, tightly crafted yet easygoing rock anthem that asks the question "How did we get here?" With its sweet tone and cutting gun-control theme, another standout, "79 Shiny Revolvers," takes a similar tack, proving Baxter has a solid command of this kind of social-statement pop. Other highlights include "Angeline," "Hey Larocco," and the lovely acoustic ballad "Without Me," a trio of strong tracks that blend the entanglements and emotions of relationships with a distant undercurrent of unease. With his laid-back charm, wit, and earthy sincerity, Baxter has shown his acumen for quality songcraft before, but on Wide Awake, he ties it up in one wholly engaging package. ~ Timothy Monger