KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke/The Wind and the War Double EP

KaiL Baxley: Heatstroke/The Wind and the War Double EPKaiL Baxley, Heatstroke, Wind and the War
A musician is largely the product of influence. Good musicians hear what they like and work to express it through their own creative endeavors. Such is the case with KaiL Baxley, whose debut release is at once an homage to New Orleans-style blues and a soulful interpretation of the country and western singer-songwriter paradigm.

Split 30/70, the album opens up with the former of the two styles. “Don’t Matter to Me” combines crooning vocals, a hip-hop style beat, and a repeated guitar line into a fun little number that eases you into the record. The song builds steadily, bringing in a jangly lead line that ascends into a strong chorus of horns and harmonica. The drums are especially solid on this track, mixing sparse and thick into a juicy combination. The second song, “Heatstroke” is a quick, piano driven track that completely embodies the delta blues. This track really shows off KaiL’s strong vocals, lifting them over hand claps and a great backing chorus. There’s a fantastic sax line near the end that descends into a rather experimental section. The drums keep the beat while a syncopated drone shimmers over it. Track three, and the end of the more blues-inspired section of this release, is “Boy Got it Bad”. This song absolutely kills using only claps and Baxley’s strong voice supported by a moaning chorus of voices.

A brief, beautiful interlude leads into the slower, more soulful aspects of the record. “Say Goodbye to the Night” is great material for a single, exuding tenderness and harmony in a complex mix of strings, vocals, and steady percussion. “Legend of the Western Hills” is a fair track in comparison, but felt like a missed opportunity at a country-western epic. The song has the flavor of such a tune but plods a little in its softness and feels overlong. “The Rebel” in contrast hits a lot closer to the heart. This track has Baxley singing of a father lost to time and distance, and a pitiful boy trying just to find footsteps to follow. While absent of percussion, the rhythm guitar aptly captures the trot of a horse along an old dusty trail. This, combined with the gorgeous, distant slide guitar provides a soundtrack to the cold, lonely wastes of memory.

The record closes with “Black River Son” and “Old Voices”. The former has a cool, sentimental current that flows calmly to the heart. I feel this track could have closed the record, but “Old Voices” does the job well enough. This tune, another devoid of percussion, has Baxley singing about days gone by. The rather simple rhythm guitar is well accented by strings and sparse accordion. The end is especially lovely, with Baxley singing just over a backing chorus, fading softly into the sunset.

Heatstroke/The Wind and the War is an incredibly mature and composed debut from such a new artist, and shows a great deal of promise for him in the future. While the division of these songs into two halves is interesting, I did feel that they could have been mixed together into a full length to better show their variety rather than lumped together homogeneously. However this is a minor qualm and should not discourage the adventurous listener from enjoying this album as a complete work.
Rating: 8.4/10
MP3: KaiL Baxley “Say Goodbye to the Night”
Buy: iTunes