Overnight success stories still hold fascination for the public at large, specifically, the proverbial showbiz tale that takes an artist, actor or musician from rags to riches in what appears to be a blink of an eye. KaiL Baxley (the capitol ‘L’ at the tail end of his first name is quirky but intentional) seems a candidate for that distinction given the seemingly immediate notice he received in the wake of his initial bow. A double EP, Heatstroke/The Wind and the War brought Baxley an instant nomination for NPR‘s Album of the Year, a wealth of critical kudos, and a proclamation from the tastemakers at All Songs Considered as one of the year’s top new artists.
The story becomes all the more compelling when one considers Baxley’s humble beginnings. Born in the small backwater town of Willison-Elko South Carolina — a town that’s so obscure and inconspicuous that even folks that reside in the rest of the state are unaware of its existence — Baxley was abandoned by both his mother and father at an early age and subsequently raised by his grandfather until he reached the age of 12. Then, when his grandfather passed away, he was shuffled from one foster home to another, generally living in any one place for no more than a single year at a time. He found his refuge in music while formulating his earliest influences: Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, and James Brown, with whom Baxley developed an early unlikely friendship while he was still living in Willison-Elko as a child. It seems the town’s only other claim to fame was that Brown hailed from there as well.
Call in the scriptwriters. Baxley’s life story makes the stuff of a big screen success.
Of course, the plot wold come to a premature conclusion if it wasn’t for Baxley’s continuing tug on his own bootstraps. Consequently it seems more than appropriate that his new album and his full-length debut, the appropriately dubbed A Light That Never Dies, becomes a spectacular follow-up, the kind of record that will most definitely turn heads and and convince those heretofore unawares that a major new talent has arrived on the scene. Baxley’s muddied, molasses-soaked vocals make the most immediate impression, evoking the sound of someone worldly-wise and wizened.
Co-produced by Producer/Engineer Eric Corne (Lucinda Williams, Glen Campbell, Kim Deal, John Mayall), the album was recorded in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Charleston, South Carolina, which given its sonic span is perhaps apt. Songs like “Light That Never Shines,” “The Ballad of Johnny Steel” and “Better Feelin’ Better Days” typify its cool groove, but it’s a handful of other entries such as “Mr. Downtown”, “Tell the Setting Falling Sun”, and “Troubled Souls” that mark him as simply a superb soul singer and potentially, one of the standout stylists of our time. Baxley’s clearly commands the groove and there’s no reason to think that further triumphs aren’t left to come.