High Plains Alchemy

Minimal hype can be a bonus – no expectations means no pressure – but it can also be a detriment when music as solid, original, and spirited as John Edward Baumann’s risks going unheard. Facing no more expectations than the average earnest Austin alt-country act, Baumann writes as if he had a Grammy in his back pocket and a rep to protect. Bringing to mind the homey, detailed wisdom of a Bruce Robison or Max Stalling, Baumann has a knack for plugging into a place or scenario (the boomtown optimism of “Eagle Ford,” the coastal humidity of “Gulf Moon”) and populating it with vivid notions that get a tossed-off line here, a whole verse there, perhaps a bridge if he opts to get that complicated. Produced with sympathetic grace by Corby Schaub, ruminative beauties like “Space & Light” get all the earthy gravity they deserve and relative goofs like “Dogs” get that whiff of sincerity that makes the joke funny more than once. Bonus points, of course, for using the word “unwieldy” properly in a song and appropriating “West Texas Alchemy” as a not- entirely-explained but entirely dig-worthy metaphor. In its own modest way, this is an unforgettable record. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK