By Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
Some might insist that comparing Rayland Baxter to Paul Simon is inappropriate, the likening of a go-kart to a Mercedes. But that would be overly reductive and dismissive of Baxter’s burgeoning talent. Baxter isn’t a carbon copy of Simon, to be sure, but how can anyone listen to “Mr. Rodriguez” and not hear the similarities vocally, musically, and poetically?
Setting that comparison aside and looking at Baxter in relation to only his previous work, ‘Imaginary Man’ represents a sizable leap forward for him. Whereas ‘Feathers & Fishhooks’ found him wandering through a more rural aesthetic, this effort urbanizes the space with heartier production elements — thick guitars, churning organs, and lush strings echo, gurgle, and swirl through cuts like “Young Man,” “Oh My Captain,” and “Rugged Lovers” giving Baxter’s delicate tenor that much more heft. While the adventurous pieces are certainly fun and lively, offering Baxter grittier spaces in which to roam, it’s the quieter moments (“Rugged Lovers” and “Lady of the Desert,” in particular) that allow his inner romantic to really revel.