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Open Air Currents is a look at the new music we're discovering together on Open Air, JPR's house blend of eclectic contemporary music. Listen weekdays 9am-3pm on JPR's Rhythm & News Service.

Open Air Currents: Rayland Baxter, Emily Scott Robinson, Melissa Carper

Rayland Baxter Performing Live
Martin Schumann

Rayland Baxter returns with a largely self-created album produced during the lockdown. Emily Scott-Robinson has a new ep of songs for the witches of Macbeth. Melissa Carper is back with Ramblin’ Soul, showcasing her versatility in playing classic Americana.

Rayland Baxter: If I Were A Butterfly

For his first crack at producing, Rayland Baxter – son of the late guitarist Bucky Baxter, who passed away in 2020 – lived largely isolated for roughly a year at Thunder Sound, a former rubber band factory turned recording studio. The result is the ambitious new album If I Were A Butterfly. With digitally-augmented vocals and an array of sounds including horns flutes and cellos, as well as ambient sounds and recordings of Baxter as a child, the album is a bit of a departure for him. The title track serves as an overture for the kind of sounds and textures found throughout the new release. It begins with a recording of Baxter as a four-year-old singing the Sunday School classic, The Butterfly Song before developing into a funkier sound. In stark contrast to the devotional tune, Baxter’s song asks why life is so short and full of loss and loneliness. Tadpole – a stripped-down piano ballad – reminisces about childhood memories both good and bad including the suicide of a neighbor. Baxter credits living mostly alone during lockdown for helping him discover a lot about creating music. Instead of working with a producer for just a few weeks, he says he “waited for the record to build itself.” Inspiration, he says, came at times from birds or squirrels or even the hum on an air conditioner and that he felt his father’s presence guiding his work. With heartfelt lyrics and a deep sonic palette, If I Were A Butterfly is an album you can listen to repeatedly and hear something new each time. We’ll be unpacking if for the next several weeks on Open Air.

Emily Scott-Robinson – Built on Bones

In 2021, Emily Scott-Robinson was asked to write music for the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Originally written during the reign of King James I, who was known for persecuting folk-healers, spiritualists and teachers, Shakespeare portrayed the witches of Macbeth as ugly and evil. The stereotype has followed independent women who question the patriarchy since that time. For the new production, Robinson - who was the musical director for the project and played Hecate - changed the narrative. Her witches were attractive, smart, playful and sexy. Built on Bones is a six-song ep with music written for the performance. Robinson is joined by Alisa Amador, who won the 2022 NPR Tiny Desk contest, and Lizzy Ross of the duo Violet Bell. For production, she enlisted Nashville producer Brandy Zdan who she describes as dark and gritty. She refers to the entire recording team, somewhat in jest, as a “coven” with Zdan adding a darker side to the beautiful harmonies found throughout. There is an appropriately haunting vein running through this song cycle that serves the story while working to update a centuries-old narrative about self-empowered women.

Melissa Carper – Ramblin’ Soul

The genre “Americana” is pretty vague. It may be an easier way for some folks to accept country music, but it also encompasses bluegrass, folk, singer/songwriters, a little bit of rock, western swing and even early jazz. Melissa Carper’s style is made up of a little bit of all of that. Growing up in Nebraska and raised on a steady diet of Jimmie Rodgers and classic jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, Carper picked up the stand-up bass at age 10 and played and sang back-up with her family band. Her vocal qualities, sometimes like that of jazz legend Billy Holiday have earned her the nickname “Hill-Billy Holiday.” Her new release is Ramblin’ Soul. True to her nature, these are heartfelt, sometimes humorous songs about a simple life. The title track is a road song a bit like those made famous by Hank Williams. 1980 Dodge Van, is a classic Americana love song about a car, in Melissa’s case, her first car, which she sings about almost as if it was a beloved horse. Ain’t A Day Goes By has an R&B feel, Texas, Texas, Texas is western swing. Her humor shines through on Boxers on Backwards, with the lyrics “I ain’t getting’ lucky tonight/I got my boxers on backwards and it just doesn’t matter cuz I ain’t getting’ lucky tonight” it’s an anti-party song about staying in for the night, but without regrets. She gets vocal help from fellow emerging Americana star Sierra Ferrell on the songs Zen Budha, and From What I Recall. Since her 2021 release Daddy’s Country Gold – Daddy being the other nickname her band bestowed upon her for her ability to take charge and problem-solve – Carper has been a favorite of ours on Open Air. We are excited to host her in a JPR Live Session on January 25 prior to her show in Ashland at LaBaguette.

It’s December and the holidays are here. I got to sift through a ton of music for the season. Of note, a full-length release from Sweet Megg, a vintage jazz and swing artist who has released 3 albums in the last year or so including Santa Baby a collection of sultry pop Christmas tunes given a vintage jazz interpretation. Local musician Jeff Kloetzel sent in his holiday release Merry and Bright – an album of holiday standards featuring other local musicians. Rock-a-Billy artist Wild Earp has blessed us with a warning for naughty children, the irreverent the Krampus Song. Lastly, keep your ears open for Martin Sexton singing Blue Christmas recorded during his JPR Live Session earlier this year.

Happy Holidays from the Open Air family to yours. We look forward to exploring a whole new year of music with you in 2023.

Dave Jackson curates the music on JPR's Rhythm and News Service, manages music staff and hosts Open Air, JPR's hand-picked house blend of music, JPR Live Sessions and Open Air Amplified. The exploration of music has been one of his lifelong passions.