In October of last year, I went to see The Lumineers with some friends. Until this point, I had only listened to the band a couple of times and enjoyed their chill, folk vibe. In my head, I imagined the opening acts playing a short setlist, but everyone’s attention and excitement would focus on The Lumineers. The main event. That’s usually the thought process of shows, right? But I was immensely wrong. I was not expecting the first act that was Rayland Baxter. He walked on stage with his traveling band like this was just another jam session wearing white jeans, a white short sleeve button up, and a frayed blue hat that concealed his long hair. The way he handled his guitar left me in awe; his fingers effortlessly linked each chord together in a perfect bluesy rhythm. The ambiance of his set had me in a trance throughout the rest of the concert. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Lumineers. But what I remember the most from that night is Rayland: the steel pedal guitar, his charismatic smile and voice, and most importantly, the storytelling.
Rayland Baxter has been creating music for a couple of years now but found better recognition after his 2015 album The Imaginary Man. His songs come from the view of an “Average Joe;” a guy who is trying to figure out life and the human condition. The album deals with the voice inside our head causing the suffocating emotions of love, loneliness, and longing. Specifically, the song Yellow Eyes speaks to me for its simple message of loss, and the hunger to move forward. The idea is easy to follow, but the lyrics hold hidden truths supported by a lovely melody.
Yellow Eyes was inspired by a breakup, like most songs we hear today. “My girlfriend and I were having that final conversation in the kitchen, and she kept playing with this paper clip…” Rayland commented on this universal theme. The opening lyrics to the song show the images of this “final conversation” and his emotions towards the paper clip and the last words shared. He left the paper clip there for weeks because the thought of moving this tangible object meant the reoccurrence of intangible feelings. Which is an experience likely to settle with the masses. The chorus rings the foreboding words, “Now it’s time I get to going” as he finds his way in life without this mentioned loved one. He thinks that he is leaving her lonely, but the lyrics validate that he is the one left alone.
The third verse seems to switch from his heart’s brokenness to him being his biggest adversary; “find the girl with the yellow eyes and go and break her heart.” Rayland stated that the song told the story of two women: the one we meet in the first verse and the second a girl with yellow eyes. While on the road he had a fling with another musician after his breakup, but because of their busy schedules, their love never worked out. In the closing lyrics, he states that nothing has changed and that he doesn’t understand what he has become. These feelings resonate with him as he realizes that instead of searching for love, he first has to find his way. Focus on himself as he drives away from the past.
Why Is It a “Must Listen?”
Rayland Baxter leaves me with goosebumps. His voice is a dreamy wisp; his passion stands boldly in his guitar. For me, Yellow Eyes is the perfect song to show his alternative folk style and words that endear the heart. I would not call myself a fan of breakup songs. But Rayland has a way of showing the human condition and the struggles, not just the mushy “I don’t think I can move on without the person” emotions. He rather explains that yes, a loved one has moved out of his life, but he is learning that life cannot be wrapped up in this singular emotion. I love the chorus. “Now it’s time I get to going / Now it’s time I get to find my own way.” Don’t we all have to discover ourselves on our own? Of course, our friends and family help us, but truthfully it resides in ourselves to figure out what life will show. And his honesty is something I can connect to past experiences. I have found that even with the opinions and advice of others, I still had to decide for myself what I would be passionate about and pursue in life. That is an adventure we must all take.
The last verse ends with him becoming “a prisoner to everyone [He has] loved from the start.” Oh man. After this story of losing people and realizing that he must find his way, he also acknowledges that those people don’t just disappear. The experiences meant something, and he will always have feelings for the people and memories. This verse hit me hard. After my family moved six different times to various states, leaving loved ones became a checklist of goodbyes. And now after so many years, I have lost contact with many, and some of those losses still sting. A piece of them will always be with me: the thoughts shared, the memories made, and so forth. We all move forward and find new hopes and pursue different paths. The recognition of those feelings is what prevails. For Rayland, he used those past emotions and memories in song, to create something reflective for others. And I am glad he did.
You can listen to Rayland Baxter on Spotify and Itunes. Also, he performs often on Audiotree Live and OurVinyl Sessions which are on YouTube, along with many other live concerts. Tune in next week for another Weekly Sound!