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."
"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.
John Baumann is currently on tour across Texas.