Album Review – John Baumann’s “Country Shade”

One of the fortunate things about the Texas music scene is there’s a place, and a space for everyone. Whether it’s the big raucous headliner acts, the side stage pickers, country, rock, blues, folk, or everything intermixed and in between, as long as you’re honest and heartfelt, you can find a home.

With his new album Country Shade, John Baumann fortifies his spot in Texas music and beyond as a songwriter. Sure, there’s a lot of artists who write songs in Texas music. But with John Baumann, writing songs is the singular and pure pursuit—to find the perfect sentiment, to put a notion to rhyme that has the capacity and promise to change someone’s heart or perspective. It’s a purpose where any commercial value of a composition is a secondary concern. If someone else wants to pick up one of his songs like Kenny Chesney did for “Gulf Moon,” so be it. But Baumann’s exercise is one in artistry.

Consider John Baumann less like fellow Panhandlers supergroup members Josh Abbott and William Clark Green who makes performance part of their songwriting, and more like Jason Eady or Lori McKenna. In fact there’s a song on the new record called “Next Ride Around The Sun” that sort of reminds you of McKenna’s award-winning “Humble & Kind.” Reflection, pause, gratefulness, humility, and wisdom—most all of these qualities come into play when Baumann puts pen to paper.

Country Shade is like a long uninterrupted pause on a back porch during a warm Sunday afternoon—the perfect antidote to the remarkably unsettled moment in history that marks its release date. It’s not necessarily the cunning wordsmithing that makes John Baumann so remarkable, it’s more how he captures warm sentiments just about perfectly.

Country Shade is about a young man with a maturing perspective taking stock, slowing down, sharing life lessons, while still learning a few more of his own. It’s about reinforcing the wisdom we’ve all retained from somewhere, but we never seem to recall when we need it most. Broken hearts don’t last forever. If you love someone don’t be afraid to let them go. Always spend more time looking forward than behind. And sometimes life is about understanding that there is no good answer or lesson, like why some people perish well before their time.

This is also a record full of reflection. The opening song “Country Doesn’t Sound The Same” sets the perfect mood, and might end up being regarded as one of the better songs all year. Not your standard and cliche-riddled country protest song, this more thoughtful, reflective, and hushed effort bemoans the passing away of important things in life—country music included—to the onslaught of progress and noise, while resisting the new favorite American pastime of finger-pointing and laying blame.

To convey these songs, Baumann worked with producer Justin Pollard, who puts a fairly Americana polish on the record, though Doug Pettibone’s pedal steel work, along with dobro and mandolin help keep it rootsy. Baumann writes nearly all the songs himself, but gets some assistance from Aaron Raitiere on “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” and Drew Kennedy on “Daylight’s Burning.”

On the touching “I Don’t Know,” Baumann proves he can also write a good melody, and just when one might worry that the record may lack enough energy for a wider audience, he delivers “Flight Anxiety,” with a bit more youthful lyrics and perspective, and a rock attitude. Baumann’s rework of the old Kristofferson tune “Sunday Morning Going Up” may miss the mark a bit both in the writing and arrangement, but the album ends on John drawing a hard line against the encroachment of supposed progress on “Grandfather’s Grandson,” which proves he isn’t just worthy of honoring the past, but is willing to fight for it.

Old soul ruminations mixed with everyday morals make Country Shade a must-have, and John Baumann a name worthy of the list of top contemporary roots-based songwriters.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)

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