In a flood of creative output from a variety of Texas Music stalwarts across recent months, perhaps nobody is dialing up the creativity quite to the level of John Baumann. Baumann released his latest album, Border Radio, on October 6, 2023. Depending on how you count it, it’s his 7th or 8th some odd studio effort in a mix of wide-ranging EPs, albums, collaborations and more.
Baumann is criminally overlooked and in a class of songwriting normally revered for legends long gone. He seems to inhabit characters and geographic locations like few modern others not named Isbell or Felker. He’s Bexar County through and through but far west Texas permeates all of his work dating back to the West Texas Vernacular EP from over a decade ago. He melds the two locales into an amalgam all his own.
What’s different about this latest incarnation is his confidence. It has been evident in his live performances over the last few months and it is seeping into the recorded work now. That’s not to say he’s ever lacked any self-assurance (see “Here I Come”), but he is now comfortable putting it right out on front street display with a knowing wink. His live shows can now sweep from Townes-esque songwriter guitar pull vibes to full-on Sinatra crooning. Credit The Panhandlers experience or just Baumann fully realizing his own potential, but his growth, quality, variety and exuberance are undeniable.
He writes and sings songs that move the soul and songs that move the feet. Border Radio straddles the line between both sides of that coin. 2017’s Proving Grounds has always been the Baumann high water mark for me personally, but I think he has surpassed it here. Echoes of Springsteen bounce around songs like “Revving Engines, River Street” and “Turning Gold”. “My Heart Belongs To You” is exactly what the title reveals. A straightforward, plaintive love song that leaves the flowery language aside to show authentic appreciation of a partner. Then there are the desert romps of “Border Radio” and “Gold El Camino”. You can hear the vast emptiness. These pieces of the album are reminiscent of Drew Kennedy’s Marathon.
Baumann has carved out a career on consistent songwriting rooted in his homeland. Its ethos, its people, its geography, its vibe. He puts it all on display here, musically and lyrically. Baumann has proven he’s a cut above most others at the moment. He’s also staking claim to be in the conversations that include some of the best of all time.