Rob Baird is done looking in the rearview. The Memphis-born musician had enough of being conceptualized, packed a bag and said no thanks. “I had no interest in competing with the country-pop stars and trying to dance around,” says Baird, who left Nashville in the dust, booked a one-way-ticket to Austin and rediscovered his passion for intimate, no-frills songwriting. Working alongside producer Brian Phillips (David Ramirez, Penny + Sparrow), he’s crafted his most accomplished work yet: Wrong Side of The River, a 10-track gut punch of blues-drenched, storyteller-crisp autobiography derived from chasing miles of dreams.
On ‘Wrong Side,’ Baird pries open an emotional well that’s long been kept tightly lidded. Finally freed of creative constraints, the singer-songwriter channels his longtime musical influences: the Stax-era soul seeping from the Memphis streets of his youth; those blues melodies he remembers hearing when he skipped study hall to see world-weathered bluesmen perform. “I let my guard down and let what was naturally there shine,” he says, referencing a spellbinding string of songs that ultimately tell Baird’s personal story through 10 tracks.
“The album is about being in the wrong place and knowing that you need to figure out a way to get to the other side,” Baird says. “I moved to Tennessee after living in Texas for 8 years, and after about a year I knew it was time to go back to Texas. These feelings became the base -- Sometimes you got to fight tooth and nail through the darkness to find the light.”
Baird hit the road, and miles of his reflection is found slashing from the bluesy, Jack White-influenced title track to the sweeping, organ-aided Jackson Browne rocker “Mercy Me”; the “sentimental back-porch ballad, “Run of Good Luck,” and the cannon-shot stomp of a blues-rocker, “Ain’t Nobody Got A Hold On Me.” “I wanted to set the tone that this album is a little different,” he explains of the opening cut. “It’s got that driving force, and nobody can stop me from finding home.”
Working with Phillips was crucial to his process of self-discovery. He played a key role in helping Baird wrap his mind around the album’s sonic shape and played everything from pedal steel to piano, organ and both acoustic and electric guitar on the album. The setting became equally essential to the sound: recording took place in an Austin garage giving the biting tracks a decidedly gritty flavor. “I was in a garage in North Austin after leaving one of the best studios in Nashville,” Baird says, “but I was making a record that makes more sense than whatever the hell we were doing there.” Most importantly, Phillips helped Baird discover his own unique musical perspective is hardly a one-size-fits-all proposition. To that end, he began penning songs that reflect both his hard-earned maturity (“I feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the past couple years”) and an ever-expanding musical palate.
An admitted lover of classic country, the man behind 2012’s I Swear It’s The Truth slashed through preconceptions of style and sounds this go-round. Baird believes that candid, no-frills music is once again being appreciated by the masses, referencing artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell as inspiration for his LP’s take-no-prisoner approach. “You’re seeing a lot more honest music being portrayed. And that music is thankfully starting to connect with people again. It’s really encouraging to see people responding to real singer-songwriters. That’s all I am, and all I ever want to be is honest.”
“You have to go through all the pain and suffering and figure out who you wanna be and what you wanna do,” Baird says. “A lot people just want to make money first. I can’t live that way.”