Do you like good music? I am guessing/hoping the answer is emphatically YES. But are you a fan of Alternative Country or Americana? I think I’ve always been, but I just didn’t know that’s what it was called. Thank goodness for my buddy Baron Lane at TwangNation.com, the unofficial-Ambassador-of-Americana and Official-Americana-Grammy-Blogger/Journo who over the years gives me listening assignments/suggestions or just a simple heads up about artists he’s grooving on or thinks I will like. American Aquarium is one of those bands that Baron said, “what do you think of (such and such) band” and I Google’d them. The first song I discovered was “Wolves” the title track from their 2015 album. I went fishing for more and fell for them hook, line and sinker. (Expect their album Wolves to be on our Best of 2015 List with a review coming soon!)
American Aquarium began releasing albums in 2006, drawing influences from bands like Whiskeytown and the Drive-By Truckers. Formed in Raleigh, NC — the unofficial headquarters of Alt Country — the band focused on the songwriting of B.J. Barham, who fleshed out his lineup with pianist Zack Brown, bassist Bill Corbin, guitarist Ryan Johnson, drummer Kevin McClain, and pedal steel player Whit Wright. Despite an active touring schedule, the group also visited the recording studio regularly, and released a pair of independent albums before partnering with Last Chance Records for 2009’s Dances for the Lonely.
Like I said, they’re Alt Country, and lean towards Classic Rock circa late 70s early 80s, as opposed to metal or big hair 80’s bands. Think more acoustic music, less amped out, much more instrumentally smooth and not so gritty or loud, but not necessarily the southern-fried rock that is coming out lately. BJ Barham’s voice, makes me melt. There is such a purity and John-Cougar-Mellancamp-esque-ness to his voice. I am not a flowery/descriptive writer. I just like what I like, so take my word on it, and just go check them out, and let me know what YOU think?
Influences: Lucero, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, Drive By Truckers, Wilco, Romantica, Cory Branan, J Roddy Walston and the Business, Cary Ann Hearst
*side note Americana is LUCKY TO HAVE BARON. what an amazing advocate of music. You should check out his website.
Discover them in the order I did with the playlist below. If anything, at least listen to “Wolves,” and if that doesn’t do it for you give some of their older stuff a spin. If this isn’t your gig and you prefer something else, check out some great new music at Country Music #CMchat.
American Aquarium Playlist
MORE ABOUT AMERICAN AQUARIUM (their bio)
BJ Barham-Vocals/Rhythm Guitar,
Ryan Johnson-Lead Guitar,
Whit Wright-Pedal Steel,
Colin Dimeo-Lead Guitar
For nearly a decade, American Aquarium have spent the majority of their days on the road, burning through a sprawl of highways during the day and playing hours of raw, rootsy rock & roll at night. Sometimes, the job is a grind. Most times, it’s a blessing. American Aquarium’s songs, filled with biographical lyrics about last calls, lost love and long horizons, have always explored both sides of that divide. For every drunken night at the bar, there’s a hangover in the morning. For every new relationship, there’s the chance of a broken heart. It’s that kind of honesty — that sort of balance — that makes the band’s newest album, Wolves, their strongest release to date.
And it nearly didn’t happen. When American Aquarium traveled to Muscle Shoals to record Burn.Flicker.Die. in 2012, they were convinced the album would be their last. Even though they had enlisted the help of award-winning singer-songwriter Jason Isbell to produce the sessions, they were exhausted; weathered and whittled to the bone by more than a half-decade of heavy partying and heavier touring. To a small group of diehard fans, they were absolute rockstars… but being rockstars to a cult audience doesn’t always put food on your table or gas in your tank. BJ Barham, the band’s frontman, was so poor that he’d been living out of a storage unit for months, unable to afford an apartment in the band’s hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Clearly, something had to give. Maybe it was time to make one final album — an album about failure, desperation and disillusionment — and then throw in the towel.
As fate would have it, Burn.Flicker.Die. eventually proved itself to be the band’s most successful release to date. Critics loved it. Fans rallied behind it. Fast forward 2 years and almost 500 shows later, the band has travelled the world, quadrupled their fan base and reinvented their passion for the road. When the time came to record another album in June 2014, it only made sense to do something that celebrated survival rather than failure.
The result? Wolves, which Barham describes as “the sound of a band firing on all cylinders”. Produced by Megafaun’s Brad Cook and recorded during a 20-day stay at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC, Wolves was funded entirely by American Aquarium’s diehard fanbase. The album’s 10 tracks represent a departure from the band’s signature twang. Instead drawing more from the alternative rock sound that inspired their name almost a decade ago. Wolves blends the twang of the pedal steel with the dark, dirty swirl of two electric guitars, creating a sound that’s fit for the roadhouse, the honky tonk and the dive bar. Barham has certainly spent time in all three, but now looks to brighter horizons in these new songs.
“I’ve always written about being the drunk guy at the bar at 2 a.m.,” he admits. “I’ve written about the pick-up lines and the drinking and the drugs. This record is more personal than that. It’s a coming of age record.”
It’s also a record that reaffirms his faith in American Aquarium, a band he started in 2006. Since that time, more than 25 musicians have passed through the group’s ranks. In recent years though, things have felt a lot more stable. Ryan Johnson, Bill Corbin, Whit Wright, Kevin McClain and the newest addition, Colin Dimeo, round out the group, turning Barham’s songs into fiery, fleshed-out compositions.
With Wolves, which hits stores February 3, 2015, American Aquarium is literally bigger and better.
“We were legitimized by Burn.Flicker.Die.,” Barham says. “That album was a breakup record with the road. It basically said, ‘This is our last album, this is why we’re quitting, and hey, thanks for the memories.’ Fast-forward to 2014, though, and we’re making a new record that says, ‘We ain’t done yet.'”