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Galleywinter Review

August 10, 2017

{Review} John Baumann – Proving Grounds

John Baumann is a songwriter with a strong voice and clear conscience that has enabled him to cut through to the hearty details of life that impact us all.  His releases have all been critically acclaimed and he continues to grow his audience.  He writes songs that make you think and move you in some way.  His music is unique, special and different in all the best ways. Baumann’s latest release, Proving Grounds, finds him making good on the positive claims of his previous efforts.

The opening salvo of “Here I Come” is as direct and no b.s. description of a touring songwriter in Texas as has ever been committed to tape.

I started writing songs that sucked on the surface and cliche
I must’ve wrote 200 bad ones before a good one came my way
Now I’m damn near almost 30 with this trailer to load
My name is misspelled on the marquee, 500 miles down the road
My skin is so much thicker now that I’ve been in this shit
Too soon for accolades and it’s too late to quit

It doesn’t get much more real than that.  Whereas others in his lane try to coast on bravado, bullshit and hype, Baumann is keeping it as real as it gets. This is the type of gritty honesty we’re all craving and seeking in our music. It’s the type of insight previously provided by the likes of Hayes Carll and Guy Clark.

His honesty separates and elevates him from the pack of younger artists trying to reach that next level in this scene.  He again echoes Carll on “Heavy Head”…a hungover ode to the glow of leftover good intentions.  There’s a hint of madness, sarcasm and wisdom strewn alongside the empty aluminum and full ashtrays. The Clark harkening continues on “Love #1” and not just in title emulation.  The phrasing and vibe is replete with that Clark gift of less is more. Baumann treads ground that would prove hackneyed in other hands, but come across as straightforward platitudes of affection here.

The real world observational lyrics don’t stop there. “Lonely In Bars” takes another scenario that is tried and true country songwriter fodder and gives it a fresh turn. The characters in the song aren’t just looking for a right-swipe or hook-up…they’re in the long game and seeking to never be lonely in a bar again.  The Isbell-esque “Old Stone Church” is a heart-wrenching tale that provides a steely eyed view of organized religion and small town hypocrisy…and how we all seek both when we need it most. Personally, I’ve lived part of that song and it ripped my heart out on first listen and each successive listen hasn’t been much easier.  I suspect there will be many people that find that same connection.

There’s fun to be had here too…”The Trouble With Drinking” and “When Ophelia Comes To Town” provide a fun counterpoint to the heady and heartfelt emotional pull of the other songs.  These songs aren’t slouches, just a different slice of this crazy life we all live.

On an album full of eleven strong tracks, it is the last that perhaps packs the most melancholy punch.  “Pontiacs” is a poetic, coming of age tale that is a folksy cousin to Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and very much in line with Mike McClure’s “World Go Round”.  Baumann captures the lifelong chase of adolescence by those who have long left its grasp. The allure of simple times is stronger than the green grass we all saw as teenagers. We didn’t know how good we had it and Baumann captures that essence.

The production leaves a little to be desired at points, but I think that was Baumann’s intention.  It’s sparse and folksy like the Flatlander idols he sings of in the opening track.  Although, a few of the tracks could stand a little punchier production, it all fits the overall vibe.  Baumann’s voice isn’t a multi-range masterpiece either, but these songs are his and his emotive delivery gives them all the weight and theatrics they require.

There hasn’t been a record that captures life in such a dynamic sense in this scene since McClure’s 12 Pieces.  Whereas that record found a mid 30’s husband/father tackling life, Proving Grounds, finds Baumann on the edge of that next step of life.  This is a man staring 30 in the eye with a solid plan, a long memory and a pen.  Turning those thoughts into songs is no small task and Baumann has found a way to weave his own personal story in such a way that the public at large will recognize both John Baumann and themselves in these songs. I dropped a lot of heavy A-list comparisons in this review and it’s deserved.  That’s how strong these songs are. As solid and standout of a songwriting record as we’ve had in quite some time.  This is the real deal.

Lone Star Music Review: "Proving Grounds"

August 08, 2017

JOHN BAUMANN
Proving Grounds
www.johnbaumannmusic.com

If you’re gonna invoke the hallowed likes of Terry Allen, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore by name in a song, citing them all as formative influences on your own writing, you damn well better measure up and have something worthwhile to say. The same goes for any singer-songwriter not named Dylan (or Hancock, for that matter) who insists on stretching a song out to nine minutes, at least without the formidable backup of the E Street Band and an arena full of fervent converts predisposed to welcoming that kind of indulgence. So, props to John Baumann right off the bat not just for having the Texas-sized balls to take on both of those challenges on his latest record, but for proving himself to be, if not yet the equal of his Lubbock heroes, then at the very least heading in the right direction with as much promise as confidence in his stride. And to his credit, Baumann makes it clear that he knows right where he is on that journey, too. In “Here I Am,” the arresting mission statement that opens the aptly-titled Proving Grounds, the hungry young contender takes stock of his burgeoning troubadour career (this is his second full-length release) and stoically reckons, “It’s too soon for accolades, and too late to quit.” Ten songs later, the closing “Pontiacs” finds him assessing life at 29 with a similarly mature, in-it-for-the-long-haul sense of purpose. After waxing nostalgic for most of the song’s leisurely running time, flipping through snapshot memories of childhood and early adulthood, he stares down the impending big 3-0 and “years to go” both wary and ready: “As I look back on the halcyon days of my youth, every day I am closer to finding the truth.”

Those two bookend tracks alone, each dusted with tastefully atmospheric production by Justin Pollard that subtly recalls T Bone Burnett’s work on Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s 1996 album Braver New World, help set Baumann apart from most of his millennial peers on the current Texas scene — even though there’s plenty in the middle of the record that suggests he’s still got a ways to go before he catches up to his Flatlander idols, let alone even a contemporary like Okie wunderkind John Fullbright. When Baumann turns his attention to melodically pleasing but not especially distinctive love songs (“Turquoise,” “Love #1”) or ditties about getting wasted (whether his own “Heavy Head” or Aaron Lee Tasjan’s “The Trouble with Drinkin’”), he sorta blends back into the Kyle Park/Josh Abbott crowd. But the frank, honest empathy of “Lonely in Bars” and the stunningly somber, nuanced reckoning of “Old Stone Church” are just enough to keep the judgment scales tipped in favor of “keep an eye on this guy.” Too soon for accolades? Nah. More like right on time. And so long as he keeps gunning for the horizon and doesn’t succumb to the middle of the road, there oughta be a lot more of ’em coming not too far down the line. — RICHARD SKANSE

Saving Country Music Review: Proving Grounds

August 08, 2017

One of the reasons Texas country is outpacing Nashville at the moment from both the level of quality and infectiousness in the music is because of the latitude Texas artists are afforded to explore their influences and develop a sound that’s all of their own. You might think that Music Row labels will release just about any damn thing and call it country, but it still must adhere to a dedicated formula for what they know will sell, and artists are given little to no leeway when it comes to expressing themselves outside the norms.

Sometimes the Americana world is not much better in how sometimes artists aren’t allowed to let loose with their more rowdy side, and are supposed to be serious and heartfelt all of the time. In Texas country, you can get a little unhinged and release a drinking song, and then turn right back around and hit the audience with some serious singer-songwriter material, and nobody in the audience will bat an eyelash. In fact in some ways, that’s what’s expected of you. There’s always been the easy-on-the-ears element to Texas music, but the level of songwriting has upped its game so dramatically in recent years, you better be able to bring the gut punches when the party’s over.

Both sides of Texas country are well-represented in upcoming artist John Baumann’s third official release, Proving Grounds. You don’t have to go digging for a bio on Baumann to find out what he’s all about, it’s all articulated right there in his songs. Hailing from all over Texas, including San Antonio, Lubbock, Amarillo, and now Austin, he speaks from the experience of growing up with the music in the album’s opening track, “Here I Come” about being inspired by those flatland legends like Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely, and looking at the photos at Floore’s Country Store or Gruene Hall and wanting to emulate the success and songs of those founders of the Texas sound.

John Baumann has plenty of songs that get the blood pumping and the alcohol flowing, like the wit-filled “The Trouble With Drinkin'” (originally done by Aaron Lee Tasjan),  and the ode to imbibing in life’s inebriating substances, “Heavy Head.” If there’s any problem, perhaps it’s that Baumann gets a little too drunk muscled in these songs, and gets a little bit of a cowboy dick about him, with his Texas accent coming out, while on other tracks you barely hear an accent at all.

As fun as some of these songs can be, they will not be the indelible mark of John Baumann’s career, though they may be the gateway drug for many to get there. It will be his deeper material that will keep the fans he makes begging for more. “Old Stone Church” about the death of a father has already been named one of Saving Country Music’s Best Songs of 2017 So Far, and the excellent “Lonely In Bars” could have made it on the list as well. Why some massive mainstream superstar couldn’t pick up a song like “Lonely in Bars” and have a huge hit with it, I don’t have a clue. It’s too good I guess.

There’s nostalgia—which is regularly broached in country songs—and then there’s John Baumann’s nearly 9-minute “Pontiacs” that closes this record out. Why more country artists don’t have the courage and boldness to really explore how deep a song can go like “Pontiacs” does is curious, but Baumann proves it can be done, and is all the better for not trying to squeeze in at four minutes.

Proving Grounds is a great album. It’s not an excellent album, but it has some excellent songs like “Pontiacs,” “Old Stone Church,” and “Lonely in Bars.” It might be easy to question the approach they took with songs like “Love #1” with its heavy reliance on one guitar riff, but they tired to keep things interesting, which they accomplished. An maybe one of the best things about Proving Grounds is how it makes you really hopeful from the output from Baumann in the future as a young songwriter. These songs are brand new, but you already want more from where “Loney in Bars” and “The Trouble with Drinkin'” came from.

Country Exclusive Review: Proving Grounds

August 08, 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: JOHN BAUMANN–PROVING GROUNDS

Rating: 8.5/10

Texas country and Red dirt, despite all of the many influences and sounds, still really comes down to two sides, just like its Nashville counterpart–there’s more of an equal playing field in Texas and Oklahoma, and that’s ultimately the difference, but the point is, you still have your serious, singer-songwriter types and your more pragmatic, commercial types. The former would be the Jason Eadys and Courtney Pattons and Jamie Lin Wilsons, and the latter would be the Aaron Watsons and Josh Abbotts, and the beauty of it all is that each artist gets to choose their own path. And then sometimes, you get artists like Turnpike Troubadours; I remember Jamie Lin Wilson telling me they could play in listening rooms or big venues because Evan Felker writes deep songs “that also make you want to party.” And it would seem that John Baumann has managed to capture that spirit as well on his latest album, Proving Grounds, effortlessly blending the serious and the fun, the bright and the dark, into a really enjoyable album, an album that I think will have quite a lot of mileage throughout the year.

John Baumann has said that this is his most personal record, and you can feel that echoing throughout the album, from the stirring opener, “Here I Come,” to the nostalgic closer, “Pontiacs,” which goes on for over eight minutes. The opener details Baumann’s dreams as a child to one day become a successful singer-songwriter and reflects on his life now as he gets closer to being a “high plains troubadour.” I think “High Plains Troubadour” would have been a great name for this record. The closer, as I mentioned, is nostalgic and sees John Baumann as an adult, wishing for just one more day to be young. Admittedly, this is not one of my personal favorite tracks, but it does serve as a closing thought to the journey started in “Here I Come,” and together, the two frame the album nicely. In between, we learn, in sharp detail, the pain of Baumann’s father dying in “Old Stone Church,” and how each family member coped in their own way. With its simple melody and honest, glaringly specific lyrics, this one stands out proudly on the album and will relate to anyone who has been through the pain of losing a loved one despite it being so personal to Baumann.

In less autobiographical, but no less serious, moments, there’s the beautiful love song “Turquoise” and the thoughtful “Lonely in Bars”–I’d like to take a moment to point out that the former takes place entirely by a river in the moonlight, and that the latter is about two people meeting in a bar and the offer for more, and yet neither of these songs manage to be clichéd, disrespectful, generic, etc. IN “Turquoise,” the only parts of the woman we ever hear about are her “turquoise eyes” and it never goes further than “the first kiss I plan to give her.” In the latter, the story line goes far deeper than just meeting at a bar and hooking up; you hear the details about the woman not having a ring and having been in a troubled relationship with an older man, and you hear the narrator making the offer to stop being lonely in bars and see what happens, “embarrassment be damned.” Either of these, especially “Lonely in Bars,” could legitimately be mainstream hits, or they could have been, if they were less well-written or respectful. Essentially, they started with moonlit rivers and midnight bars, the foundations for mainstream hits, and then actually progressed into great songs.

Mixed in with all these great songs, we get the fun side of John Baumann. “The Trouble with Drinkin'” has got to be one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard this year; that fiddle is awesome, and it would be great live. There’s another one dealing with addiction in “Heavy Head,” and the beauty in “Turquoise” is followed by the more lighthearted “Love #1” which could be seen as the continuation to that song. Texas songwriters are often criticized–and many times rightfully so–for their continuous references to Texas, but “Holding it Down” manages to be clever, witty, and catchy despite this. There are so many artists that could take a lesson from this–you can make a song about Texas in a smart way. “When Ophelia Comes to Town,” with its lively, rocking production, is one of my personal favorites here, and one of the most fun; it details all the things the narrator does to get ready for a woman to visit, and all the things they’ll do once she arrives. I wasn’t expecting the twist at the end, and I almost wish it had stayed fun because in the end, he gets word that “Miss Ophelia’s dead.” But the song’s still fun, and it’s still one of the standouts for me.

So, if you haven’t figured it out, this is a great album. It’s got some excellent songwriting, and it’s a good balance between the serious and fun songs. Hopefully, John Baumann continues in this direction, writing more personal stuff, because this is where his writing shines, and I think it will only get better. This is one of the best Texas country albums released in 2017 so far and one that gets better with each listen.

New Slang Interview: Re: Proving Grounds

August 08, 2017

INTERVIEWS: JOHN BAUMANN

by: Thomas D. Mooney
Editor-in-Chief

On the first three releases of his career, Texas songwriter John Baumann displayed, more than anything, potential. He was a young, budding storyteller who morphed into characters who were familiar, sometimes flawed, but endearing nonetheless. You knew them because you’d met them at whichever Texas school you were attending. He described regional affairs and painted vivid landscapes with a vast understanding. He went off exploring with West Texas VernacularHigh Plains Alchemy, and Departures.

Hell, for the first two, he even had three names, John Edward Baumann, much like the songwriters he was often compared to–Robert Earl Keen, Willis Alan Ramsay, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Fucking Clark.

Two weeks back, Baumann released Proving Grounds, an intimate and personal journey that detailed the highs, the lows, and most often, the unknown of growing up. Proving Grounds is a point in which Baumann’s growth and maturation as an individual and as an artist has crossed. Previously, you only caught glimpses of the real Baumann on previous projects. Here though, you’re introduced to John Baumann, the artist, storyteller, songwriter, and most importantly, the man who behind them.

So many songwriters are great on the technical side of storytelling. Getting from Point A to be B, C, and D within a song. But often, they lack understanding that those stories must have something worth saying. Proving Grounds is Baumann having something to say. There’s a lesson in it all.

The songs of Proving Grounds are lived in. They have fingerprints on them. The pages are worn. You see Baumann’s boot heels as he paced back and forth. But instead of these songs being (day)dreams, they’re memories. Instead of being transported to the Panhandle, the Permian Basin, or down to Eagle Ford, Baumann’s pulling back the curtains and letting you into his own world.

Opener “Here I Come” lays the foundation and by the time you reach the culminating “Pontiacs,” you’ve seen a transformation and progression of a child with a dream into a maturing adult having to deal with tough losses, difficult decisions, and life.

Album highlight “Old Stone Church” is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. It’s the ultimate example of how fragile and unfair life can be. But Baumann proves that while these moments can wear on an individual down to a state of unknown and void, you too learn to appreciate the time you’re given.

While “Old Stone Church” may serve as the cornerstone for Proving Grounds, other songs explore the life of an up-and-coming musician (“Here I Come,” “Holding It Down”), addictions (“Heavy Head,” the Aaron Lee Tasjan cover “The Trouble With Drinkin'”), missed connections (“Meg”), and deciding the difference between love and lust (“Turquoise,” “Lonely in Bars”). At times, it’s a rough map of how to navigate through your twenties without becoming engulfed.

Still, more than anything, Baumann’s Proving Grounds tells the story of how just when you think you’ve figured it out, life has a way of showing you that you don’t. All you can do is forge ahead. It’s alright to come out the other side with a couple of scars. No one makes it unscathed.

We caught up with Baumann last week to discuss Proving Grounds. Find it on iTunes here.

New Slang: To this point in your career, your song catalog has been dominated by geographical sketches and character-based storytellers. With Proving Grounds, you started telling your own story. These songs are more personal and intimate. How’d you get to where you were more comfortable with revealing yourself more?

John Baumann: I came home from Steamboat in 2016 and saw a lot of acts who I was impressed with. I thought it was time to dig a little bit deeper with my songwriting material. I’ve always been my harshest critic and I was never really happy with my previous projects and felt like it was time to dig deep and do my best I could possibly do. We’re all getting up there. I’ll be 30 in November.

The very first song I wrote was “Meg.” It’s still a song about someone else, but I was able to put more of myself into it. I started going down these rabbit holes. “Old Stone Church” is 100% my story. That led to “Heavy Head” and then “Here I Come.” It felt like it was becoming more and more me. I was kind of tired of writing, like “Bay City Blues,” which was about a friend in a semi-fictional kind of way.

NS: This progression, was it easier getting these songs out since you weren’t necessarily putting them through another filter of a character–since they’re more based on your own personal feelings and thoughts?

JB: This came a lot easier. My buddy Chisum and I were talking and he said it felt like the first record without any geography songs on it. With the first three projects, I was always able to mentally transport myself into an area. Those songs always felt like they took a little longer to write. Almost everything on Proving Grounds, nothing felt more than a few hours per song. There wasn’t any that took months to end up finishing. “Pontiacs” took some time. But a lot of these came out faster.

NS: You think that’s partly because there was “less homework” involved in these songs? You weren’t having to look up street names or anything. 

JB: Totally. Nothing where I was looking up the county name to see if there’d be a better rhyme than the city name kind of stuff. One thing I was kind of getting irritated at was after shows people constantly coming up and saying “You write songs about this place. You from this place?” Well no, I’m not. “Well, how come then?” I’ve kind of had enough of that. I’m a Panhandle-born guy. Spent time in Lubbock at South Plains College. But I’ve really lived all over the state. I really don’t like being boxed in as an up-and-coming geographical songwriter.

NS: Yeah. There’s not any specific geographical songs, but there’s still that Texas backdrop. You still have an homage to Texas in your writing. I always thought Guy Clark was the best at writing about Texas without falling into the cliché tropes of writing about Texas that we often see. “Here I Come” and “Holding It Down” have a lot of that in them. It’s easy to fall into those clichés as a writer. How do you avoid the potholes?

JB: I love being from Texas. As a musician, you kind of develop a love-hate relationship though since it’s a lot of the same places every weekend. It’s a lot of the same highway. I’ve got to the point of knowing which gas stations to hit in Coleman, Texas and which to skip. It’s the difference between quality of fruit and getting shitty burritos.

When it comes to writing, I really can’t stomach clichés. It has to be genuine to me. So like with “Here I Come,” everyone has a troubadour blues song–a song about how tough the business is. I was really trying to draw from where my love of songwriting started. It really started with Lubbock (on Everything) back when I had my first day job. I really hated that job. It was drawn from hearing Robert Earl Keen on boomboxes at summer camp. Those images are so ingrained into me. Like my dad taking me to Floore’s Country Store or to Gruene Hall to see Cory Morrow when I was fourteen. I thought that was heaven. “Here I Come” was so easy to get out. It was easy to stay genuine with.

“Holding It Down” on the other hand, I’ve gotten mixed opinions because I say Texas like 12 times in that song. That song though, it’s really about just being another dude in Texas trying to do the best I can to make a living. I’m not necessarily crushing it. I’m just holding it down.

NS: Yeah. I think there’s typically a misconception about the music business. A lot of fans think if a band is playing around every weekend, they must be earning a lot of money. They think everyone is successful and–

JB: –living the dream. People have said, “You opened for Willie [Nelson]. You noticed a huge change yet?” or been told by some that we’ve already gotten the money and accolades.

NS: That line–“Too soon for accolades, too late to quit” is just great. It’s a powerful line. You remember when you actually thought of it?

JB: I was sitting at my kitchen table writing that song. It was over two or three days doing like forty minutes at a time. I always liked the word accolades. I was doing David Wilde’s West Texas Live show and remember singing it and afterwards seeing him giggling over saying, “Holy shit. That was a line.”

I’m like any other guy. I get online and read reviews and press. With West Texas Vernacular and High Plains Alchemy, I was getting some praise, but I’d listen back to the record and just know I wasn’t ready. It didn’t sound like it was ready to me. I think with this record, I’m closer to some accolades. But when I was writing it, we were really in some middle ground just busting ass and consistently growing, but we’re not where we need to be.

NS: Something we’ve talked about before with those records was how sometimes you’d try to cram a whole lot of words into songs. You’d say as much as possible. Departures had a lot less of that happening. You started finding a balance of space and vocabulary. You really let Proving Grounds breathe. 

JB: Yeah. I think I had a clear vision with what I was wanting to get across in each song. A lot of these songs were simpler. I wasn’t trying to outsmart anyone or be over someone’s head. I think a large part of that was having the guitar in my hands before writing down lyrics. I was picking, thumbing, and working out melodies before. Before, I’d type out two verses and a chorus on a Word doc and then take it to a guitar.

NS: We’ve already mentioned how much more personal this record is. Family and specifically, your father, are very much on it. You talk about him on “Old Stone Church,” some on “Here I Come,” and while I don’t think you specifically mention him on “Pontiacs,” it’s a song about growing up and maturing. That transition runs through the Proving Grounds as a whole. 

JB: Absolutely. My dad died in 2013. On High Plains Alchemy, the last song on there is called “Last Great Eagle Scout.” It’s a mess. My dad passed halfway through that project. I really couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I wasn’t taking good care of myself physically or mentally at the time. I was in my mid-twenties and not sure about where I was in a music career, who I was as a person, just all of it. I didn’t know what was happening. Four years have passed since then. Time does heal wounds. I think I’ve evolved quite a bit since then. I’m comfortable and confident now. A lot of that anger and bitterness has gone away.

My dad is kind of split into three songs. One about what you want to be when you grow up and him taking me to my first Texas Country shows, one about me kind of making peace with his death, and one kind of about becoming an adult at the end of the record.

NS: “Old Stone Church” is one of the best songs you’ve written–maybe the best. How difficult was it to write out? Revisiting that time. 

JB: I wrote that in my bedroom–in my bed actually. Just me and my guitar. It’s a pretty simple song structurally. Each first line repeats at the end. It wasn’t hard to write, but it was hard to record. I’m no softie–OK, I’m a little bit of a softie. I cry during the National Anthem and stuff like that. But, we were in the studio and I lost it. There’s a part of that song when the drums, this big cannon drum, and this droning guitar kicks in midway through. I remember my producer asking if I was alright. I said I was, but he told me to take 20 minutes. I just went outside by myself. If you really listen to my vocals, there’s some quivering.

I haven’t really performed it much. There was a few times I was able to get through it when it was new and no one knew it. But to be completely honest, I’m not really looking forward to playing it live.

NS: Sonically, the album pops. It’s concise and flowing. “Pontiacs” has a nice, long outro though. Was that  always the idea for that song or was that an addition in studio? Was this sprawling outro always something you visioned for the album?

JB: Yeah. I love any song with a sprawling intro, outro, or midsection. This song was the one to do it. There were some people in my camp pushing me to have it third or fourth on the record since we live in a time of instant gratification where people listen to the first couple songs and never move on. I thought it had to be at the end though. From a music fan point of view, I love putting a CD in the car and driving and getting to the last song when it goes on for eight or nine minutes. I’ve dreamed about that for a long time. I’m glad we were able to execute it. It’s probably my favorite thing on the entire record.

NS: It feels like punctuation for the album. A statement. A ribbon that wraps it up.

JB: Right. It’s kind of making peace. The record is kind of an emotional rollercoaster. But it feels like we’re making peace at the end. Life goes on.

Wide Open Country: John Baumann

August 08, 2017

Artist to Watch: John Baumann, a Texas Troubadour on the Rise

Facebook/John Baumann

On his latest release Proving Grounds (released June 9), John Baumann honors the Mount Rushmore of Texas country songwriters within the first few lines of album-opener “Here I Come.” In the song, Baumann names The Flatlanders – Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore – and Terry Allen among the Texas troubadours who lead the Amarillo-born Baumann to songwriting.

“I’m really inspired by the forefathers of Texas songwriting: Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, Adam Carroll,” Baumann tells Wide Open Country. “A lot of those guys kind of shaped what I do now and what I hope my career looks like in the next 10 years or so.”

It’s those Texas legends that have helped Baumann navigate the rough and rocky path of becoming a “High Plains troubadour,” as he sings on “Here I Come.”

“So many great songwriters come from the Panhandle,” Baumann says. “Being in school and hearing songs on 95.9 ‘The Ranch’ radio station or growing up going to Floore’s Country Store and Gruene Hall – all through my life just living here and being a fan of the music has kind of shaped the way I sing.”

High Plains Troubadour

Ironically, the first single from the album is the only one Baumann didn’t write. “The Trouble With Drinkin’,” a fun-loving cover of an Aaron Lee Tasjan song, is already burning up the Texas charts. But Baumann says he was initially wary of doing a cover.

“I honestly didn’t really want to do it that bad but I’m so glad we did,” Baumann says. “The record was so heavy and so serious we almost needed something light.”

The barroom floor-stomping ode to debauchery is the perfect summer anthem.

But Proving Grounds is not a party album. Baumann follows up previous efforts West Texas Vernacular and High Plains Alchemy with his strongest and most somber album yet.

“I played Steamboat (Music Fest) in 2016. I came home from that and thought ‘Okay, it’s time to write the next record,'” Baumann says. “It took about eight months to write the songs. I only had about 15 songs to take in. We recorded in August over a period of two weeks. We probably cut 15 songs and only 11 made the record.”

The album’s standout track, “Old Stone Church,” is a heartbreaking song about Baumann losing his father to brain cancer in 2013.

“It wasn’t until about two years after he passed that I wrote that song. I just wrote it at my house one day and I wrote it pretty quick. It’s my story with going through that whole thing,” Baumann says. “While we recorded it– it was not an easy song to record. I definitely had to be excused from the studio for a bit. I think it’s had a powerful effect on people, which has been good.”

From stories of hard won victories and devastating losses to the sprawling seven-minute small town Texas opus “Pontiacs,” Proving Grounds is the start of John Baumann taking his place among the greats.

Sounds Like: Randy Rogers Band and Robert Earl Keen playing a Panhandle honky tonk.

Required Listening: “Old Stone Church,” a gorgeous and painful look at life and loss.