Confident, Sensual, Soulful Singer-Songwriter: Kail Baxley, Heatstroke/The Wind and the War

By Daniel Garrett

Kail Baxley, Heatstroke/The Wind and the War
Produced by Eric Corne
Forty Below Records, 2013

One hears quickly in the sultry rock song “Don’t Matter to Me” that the slim, slight young man Kail Baxley sings with the authority—the confidence and subtle eroticism—of an older man.  The quick and thick rhythm of his “Heatstroke” has both gallop and groove.  A South Carolina-born musician with Irish roots, Kail Baxley, a Golden Gloves boxer, was given a guitar as a high school graduation gift, lighting the fire of his musical dedication.  Baxley, who visited Ireland and wrote music there, recorded two groups of songs with different bands, Heatstroke and The Wind and the War, working with producer Eric Corne in the recording studio of the late and lamented but still admired musician Elliott Smith.  Corne has made music with Lucinda Williams and the band DeVotchKa; and some of the Baxley sessions had the participation of Doug Pettibone, a Lucinda Williams associate, and Freddy Koella, a Bob Dylan associate.  The Heatstroke songs “Boy Got It Bad,” “Sunrise,” and “Say Goodbye to the Night” succeed “Heatstroke,” which gives the first set of songs of this two-set collection its name.  The song “Boy Got It Bad” has a blues-based folk rock sound.  One discerns the different influences on the singer-songwriter; and Kail Baxley’s voice, solitary and soulful, is a strong voice that sounds traditional and reminds this listener of Chris Whitley and Amos Lee.  “Say Goodbye to the Night” is both confident and melancholy, with Baxley’s deep voice inside a pleasant rhythm.  There is a musical interlude, then the second set of songs entitled TheWindandtheWar, featuring the ruminative “Legend of the Western Hills,” which is a song that began in a dream Baxley had while sleeping in a van in Hollywood, and then “The Rebel” and “Black River Son” and “Old Voices,” the last a song with guitar, voice, violin and cello.  The songs have a tonal connection, continuity; and “Black River Son,” about a return to roots, is an intimate chapter in an ongoing book.  Kail Baxley, who lived in the same southern town as American soul singer James Brown, Williston, has given that town new reason for pride.

DanielGarrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House and ABC No Rio, is a writer whose work has appeared in print and online, in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Identity Theory, Illuminations, Option, Pop Matters, Rain Taxi, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics, as well as The Compulsive Reader.  Daniel Garrett edited poetry for the male feminist Changing Men magazine, wrote about the African-American artists Henry Tanner, Edward Bannister, and Reginald Madison for Art & Antiques, reported on environmental issues and organized the first interdepartmental meeting on environmental justice for National Audubon (The Audubon Activist), reviewed books for World Literature Today, and essayed international film for Offscreen.  Daniel Garrett has written a novel, A Stranger on Earth, which features stories of friendship and love, ignorance and knowledge, and art and mundane work, in the lives of a woman artist and her associates.