It had been too long since we last connected with Rayland Baxter, so it was exciting to reunite for a Down in the Valley Session in gorgeous Napa, California at the Hills Family Estate earlier this year. The Head And The Heart curated the first-annual edition of this brand new festival; throughout the two-day event video crew I Know We Should whisked away a few performers to offer acoustic, bare-bones renditions of songs in a beautiful and verdant setting.
Baxter is joined by musician/model Sophia Roze on “Hoot Owl,” a song that’s now more than 10 years old – it first appeared on the now essential release, Feathers & Fishhooks. Backgrounded by California’s iconic scrubby oaks, it’s easy to imagine the song’s main character, its perch, and the loneliness it heralds, even with the opposing quality of the intimacy and closeness of Roze’s harmony entwined with Baxter’s voice. He mimes a shudder as he sings, “…The hoot owl wakes me/ and a cold shiver shakes me,” a fleeting, sly joke under the warm Napa sun.
For his second number, Baxter stands alone, singing “Rubberband Man” off his 2022 release, If I Were a Butterfly, aptly accompanied by his nylon-stringed Stella Harmony guitar. There’s an easy, laid back quality to these performances that makes viewers feel like they’re watching him simply practice an original tune at home, alone, unperturbed. That comfortability allows Baxter to infuse sincerity or humor or a (literal or figurative) wry smile into his music without ever undercutting its impact.
Video Credit: Brad Wagner, I Know We Should
Audio Credit: Juan Soria, I Know We Should