John Baumann's third album, "Country Shade," is the kind of album we could all use right now. He paints nostalgic pictures of rural landscapes, the values inherent in hard work and reminds us to love the places and people that really matter. It's a unified view that we don't usually hear these days, except in a utopian sense. Baumann, a member of The Panhandlers with fellow Texans Josh Abbot, William Clark Green and Cleto Cordero, makes it seem completely tangible and plainly real as he sings both about the changing state of rural life and changes in relationships without coming off heavy or cliché ridden.
The opening "The Country Doesn't Sound the Same" is a play both on the musical genre and a true-to-life account of changing scenery. "Daylights Burning" acknowledges the pain, but the prevailing message is resilience. "Homesick for the Heartland" is a direct plea for nostalgia, a time when things were better. His "come on, baby, take me on" is utterly reassuring. The first single, "Next Ride Around the Sun," urges us to savor every minute, even during difficult times.
Baumann is in fine company with Doug Pettibone (Lucinda Williams) on an array of string instruments as is Nick Gardner. Austin mainstay Michael Ramos handles the keyboards with Aden Brubeck on bass along with two drummers (Nate Coon and producer Justin Pollard, Wes Hightower on background vocals and Jeff Saenz on harmonica and electric guitar.
"Fool's Crusade" is about unconditional love and one of the few places where Baumann uses clichés and hyperbole such as "slaying a dragon." The title "Sunday Morning Coming Up" obviously owes to Kristofferson, but instead of a hangover it celebrates hard work. "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" again reprises the theme of "Next Ride Around the Sun." "Flight Anxiety" revs it up, injecting a major jolt after hearing mostly mid-tempo or ballad fare. The closing "Grandfather's Grandson" begins as an acoustic ballad before the guitars take the outro to an explosive climax. It repeats the themes found in the opener, with Baumann putting requisite sentimentality into his emotive vocal. Kudos to Baumann for keeping our eyes on the right prizes.