Country music is a fickle genre. It has been splintered into many different variations over time that it has developed factions. What played on country radio in the 1990’s did not resemble anything close to what was on the airwaves in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, or ‘80s. This was the beginning of the mainstreaming of a genre that now is only country in name only. The difference between modern country music and pop is minimal. It’s pop with a southern or Midwestern drawl attached to it or even rap-influenced hybrids. Alt-country is one off-shoot of the genre that has remained viable. However, alt-country is more and more contemporary than current country music. It’s rootsy with less of a twang than vintage country of the early 1950s, but still sounds unique by comparison.
Rayland Baxter’s sound is unique, but not because it sounds outlandish. In fact, Baxter is measured melodically as a simple songwriter. That much is unique to the pop country counterparts playing right now. His voice has fragility comparable to the rusty hinges of a screen door. It creaks in the subtlest of ways that reminds you of the mileage, but it’s not in need of repair. That is the rootsy element that makes Baxter’s sound resonate. Combine that with a dynamic mix of chords and Imaginary Man is a complete, alt-country sound.
Every melody on this record has an echoing, reverberating quality. Whether or not it is a byproduct of the tonal acoustics, it rings aloud as a calming tone setter. It is these solemn chills that remain consistent throughout. The opener, “Mr. Rodriguez,” centers on chill guitar that carries the melody whether it is slight in tone or tumbling downward. “Oh My Captain” does the same thing with a rusty acoustic weathered by the mist of sea air. You can hear the metallic scraping of chord progressions beneath the waves of a keyboard chirps. This oxidized track is as solemn as there is as it sings to the seemingly never ending ocean waters. The finale, “Lady Of The Desert,” is similar with scratching chords that end up ringing hollow by comparison.
“Yellow Eyes” and “All In My Head” share the same searing guitar techniques. However, the latter has a more free and easy, swaying melody. “Yellow Eyes” has deep, straightforward riffs while “All In My Head” is all over the place. Baxter’s vocals soar like they never have before on this record on “All In My Head.” On other tracks like “Mr. Rodriguez,” Baxter is brittle vocally and does not reach too far. Here, he opens up farther than before.
Imaginary Man is as simple as a straw hat. It’s country in the sense that there is a natural ease woven into each melody. Baxter doesn’t try too hard and it shows. Imaginary Man stands out from the bland, country pop of today by going back to basics.