Songwriter Rayland Baxter is a dreamer, a very fine one, as a matter of fact. Heis one of a misty-eyed gentlefolk seeking prosperity in a soul, in the soul. He’s a
wanderer of the highest regard, with hazy matter, loosely based on his wakinghours, conditions, remarks and interactions, all that he finds suitable to chronicle
in his ledger and diary. He made a record entitled “Feathers & Fishhooks,” three
years ago and the men, or man, that he introduced us to were of the flutteryvariety. They found that they were utterly consumed by their wanderings, by theifs, the white noise and the unseen phantoms whispering it all breathy and hotinto their ears.
Baxter, who calls Nashville home, is a keen observer not just of a non-thing thinglike the human condition, but more so an observer of how he reacts to that non-thing thing called the human condition and just how people relate to one another.He appreciates the nuances of those who fail one another, or those who mean tolet each other down. He appreciates even more those who intend to be sweet,those who will remain, holding a hand warm or cold and falling into surrealrhythm together. “Imaginary Man,” his second long-player, is an exquisite newexploration of the disorienting qualities of real life and what they drive us to
conjure in our sleep, when we’re lucky enough to get it, when we allow our daysto be through. It’s a mellow current of open water, touching muddy banks,
carving out a sensation of desire and great hunger. People must be more. Hemust be more, better and kinder. Love must touch more and be more visible.People need people and they need beauty and mercy in abundance. It all needsto be there and Baxter finds this tumbling course a fascinating one.
“I see people abuse the world. There’s lots of evil out there, but we’re given thegift of life to live on this beautiful world. We’re all fucked, but we’re all winning in
the end,” he says.
“Imaginary Man” gives us a portrait of a man, via characters, whose
hallucinations are wishful and nearly productive, almost productive. They hopefor guidance. They might even pray. They are looking for shared breaths, for a
togetherness that they’re missing, or that they once had and lost. They fear thatthey’ve been better people in the past, but that they can redeem themselves.Baxter places common uncertainties into bodies who itch with them. They levitatewith them and turn them over in their hands, working them out with a radiantwarmth, tripping happily into new wrinkles of life and into other lives not their
own, all the while still recognizing that they’ve been taking advice and medicine
from roosters, poets and the nighttime spirit of Rodriguez, the tour guide of adilapidated Detroit. These are love songs to the foggy myths and the open endsof every one of us. They’re meant to speak to us like the sirens do and they’re
bound to light us on fire, or break our damned hearts.
Mikaela Davis is the kind of songwriter who routinely defies expectations. The 23 year-old artist is a composer of striking maturity. Her arrangements deftly combine elements of psychedelic rock, folk and chamber pop, and her vocals display a wisdom and a ruefulness that belie her years. Davis' instrument of choice is the harp, which she has played since she was eight years old, right about the time she could actually get her hands around the instrument. A native of Rochester, New York, she spent her formative years in youth orchestras rather than in garage bands and later earned a degree from the Crane School of Music.
Though Davis is clearly well-versed in the classical canon and is accustomed to performing in a recital setting, her approach to the harp is an unorthodox one. She often employs her instrument as a pulse, a rhythm or as texture as muscular as a guitar's. Her sound is seamlessly integrated into a rock-band context, or, on a track like "Interlude in the Sky" from her 2014 EP 'Fortune Teller,' as part of a beautiful and dynamic orchestral arrangement. On "Feels Like Forever," from the same EP, the harp functions like a loop in a dreamy groove, layered with vocal harmonies and synths. Even in high school, Davis was thinking outside the box in regards to her instrument: Despite her rigorous schedule, she often managed to do a little weekend outdoor busking at a local market with a ukulele-playing friend.
Rochester-based Brian Moore, producer of 'Fortune Teller' and Mikaela's 2012 self-titled debut album, recently told The Boston Globe what it was like to experience her music for the first time: "She had the personality, and she's obviously talented at harp and songwriting. I think the unique thing about Mikaela is she could stand alone with her songwriting and her vocals, but combined with what she can do technically on the harp -- hearing that was just a shock to me."
The young Davis -- who has garnered opening slots with such artists as Punch Brothers, Jukebox the Ghost and My Brightest Diamond, among other artists -- is now splitting her time between her Brooklyn home and a Nashville recording studio, where she is completing her second full-length recording with her long time band mates Alex Cote, Cian McCarthy and Shane McCarthy. ("They've also helped me develop my sound a lot," Davis notes. "I would be a very different performer without them.") She recently wrote and performed a piece for the new Joywave album and, in turn the Rochester-based indie rockers remixed a track from 'Fortune Teller' for her. Nickel Creek singer-violinist Sara Watkins also asked Davis to contribute harp to her new disc. Davis's own forthcoming album, produced by Konrad Snyder and Jeremy Lutito, promises a sound even more intriguing than what she's created already: "It's a big step for my songwriting." she declares. The new material, she promises, will be her most ambitious work to date.
"I think a harp can do anything," Davis declares. And so, as her recordings and live shows already indicate, can Davis.