It’s rare when a band’s music can be enjoyed by listeners of every genre, but the Ben Baxter Band’s wide diversity of influences makes it just that. Drawing heavy influence from blues, R&B and reggae, their sound is most easily compared to Jack Johnson or G. Love and Special Sauce, but they cannot easily be categorized.
The Ben Baxter Band is a group of hardworking guys. They do most of their marketing, graphic design and booking, but know how to have fun at the same time. Having won the Austin College Battle of the Bands in 2010, in addition to playing with major artists like Afroman during South By Southwest 2009 and frequenting staple Austin venues such as Antone’s and Blind Pig Pub, the Ben Baxter Band has played for thousands of people but still isn’t satisfied. The group’s latest release, Illume, recorded by Tim “TANK” Casterline at Wonderland Studios in Austin, will be available Sept. 29.
Started in 2008, the band at first consisted solely of singer/rhythm guitarist/namesake Ben Baxter Jinkins and lead guitarist/keyboardist Britton Byfield. They originally played sorority and fraternity parties and UT charity events.
“Our first show was at Pike House,” Jinkins said. “It was terrible, haha.”
The two then decided it was time to add other musicians for a fuller sound.
After trying out multiple bassists, they resolved to recruit Joe Strelsky. The three had been friends for a long time, as they all grew up together in Taylor.
Strelsky has been playing bass for 12 years. His experience and dedication is very noticeable, and his fingers effortlessly glide across his Ibanez to provide a solid, funky foundation for the guitarists to build off of. When their original drummer quit, they contacted Californian Dominic Ferrario in May 2010.
“I drove all the way down here for an audition, cramped in my car filled with drums,” said Ferrario, now a UT senior. “I got so lucky. The band was the exact style of music that I love to play.”
Ferrario’s drumming saturates the music with rhythmic technique. His syncopation and expert fills give the often-simple chord progressions new life. The band members’ compatibility is reflected on their CD.
The first track on Illume, “For You,” displays the band’s dexterity in the rock genre with a heavy melody that draws comparison to fellow Austin band Spoon. The listener will immediately be able to identify Jinkins’ distinct voice. In a matter of seconds he showcases his vocal diversity, quickly switching from a gentle falsetto to a robust, rough cut. His mastery of syllabic phrasing noticeably puts him a notch above other singers. The second track, “Put Your Head Down,” is the best on the album. Beginning with a soft acoustic guitar, Jinkins’ masterful delivery of “I bet you wish you had everyone fooled/I bet you wish you were somebody new” will certainly get stuck in the listener’s head and coax unconscious foot-tapping.
“Wiser” starts with a gospel organ melody that leads into a reggae guitar chord progression in a cheerful major key. The song is the lyrical peak of the album, with happy-go-lucky Jinkins singing, “We spent all day laughing and driving back and forth to your place where we’d always end up.” He describes the kind of intimate relationship that most people would want to have, making it easy to relate to.
“The way I see it is that we’re the paper and Ben is the pen,” said Byfield, “He writes all the lyrics.”
The allegorical style of Baxter’s lyrics is a strong point of the album, and when sung by a voice like Jinkins’, causes the album to move seamlessly from track to track.
The band goes in a different direction musically and lyrically in “I Am.” The song starts with a computerized drumbeat overlaid with an R&B keyboard melody. Because the song is so catchy, it was a prime choice for their music video (which was filmed in a UT Communications building). Even when the stringed instruments cut out, leaving only drums, Jinkins’ rhythmic vocals do more than most other full bands.
“We had an epiphany,” Byfield said. “We realized that music doesn’t have to be super intricate to be engaging. Sometimes the simpler something is, the better.”
The Ben Baxter Band is definitely on the right track. Compared to their previous recordings, their latest attempts show the band evolving musically. They have discovered their individual niche, a simple style that defines them and sets them apart from any other local band.
Their live show is also particularly enthralling. A set list normally contains a few famous cover songs, and the band’s movement while performing will surely prove infectious to an audience member.
The Illume CD release party will take place Saturday, Sept. 29th at Frank, located at 4th and Colorado streets.
Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Ben Baxter Band solidifies sound