By Anna VanHorn
What makes a good country song? If you’ve heard David Allan Coe’s version of the Steve Goodman song “You Never Even Call Me by My Name” (And let’s face it, who hasn’t?), you know that the “perfect country and western song” has some very specific requirements.
Now, far be it for me to contradict David Allan Coe, but for my money, I’ll take American Aquarium’s blend of Americana/Outlaw/Alt-Country/Roots Rock whether those country cornerstones (mama, trains, trucks, prison & getting drunk) are included or not. That’s a sentiment I’ll wager the crowd at George’s on Jan. 31 will share.
Hailing from Raleigh, N.C., American Aquarium is a band that exudes sincerity and confidence, while showing their audiences a damn good time. Their songs weave lyrical stories of life, love and heartache among a soundtrack reminiscent of 70s era southern rock and roll. Charismatic front man, BJ Barham, has a rich lonesome voice that’s forged from equal parts gravel and guts. Those obligatory country song components are there, but American Aquarium manages to speak of drinking, women, small-town America and hard living with an honesty that is filed with an understanding uncharacteristic of men their age.
They are undoubtedly part of a dying breed of hard-working bands that put on a live show equal to or better than their studio albums. Considering that their seven records have garnered critical acclaim and have inspired musicians of considerable abilities to lend their talents to various recordings, that’s no small feat. Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown), Spooner Oldham (Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan), Amanda Shires (Texas Playboys, Jason Isbell & 400 Unit) and Jason Isbell (Drive By Truckers, Jason Isbell & 400 Unit) are just a smattering of the musical who’s who that have graced the stage and/or studio with the group.
American Aquarium comes to George’s on the heels of their latest release “Burn. Flicker. Die.” that was produced by Isbell and is truly an incredible collection of music. How could a record filled with immensely personal songs that conjure comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, not be a success? This is one of those records (and bands) that manages to pull off the difficult feat of addressing sensitive subjects with a distinctly masculine edge and blunt delivery. With no topic off limits, the record talks of aging, drinking, drugs, women and life on the road, with a sincerity that lets you know these are songs that were lived, not just dreamed up on the page of a notebook.
Don’t let the delicacy of their songs’ subject matter give you the wrong impression. This is no sad-bastard band. Alt-country has a way of turning a song of lover’s lament into an anthem and giving a defiant middle finger to just about anyone that’s gotten in the way of the songwriter. American Aquarium isn’t throwing a pity party, they’re just throwing a party. With sing-along choruses, tunes that inspire dancing and the clever between song banter punctuated by Barham’s North Carolina drawl, this is a band that puts on one hell of a show. It’s a raucous good time, with an infectious energy that leaves the audience feeling bulletproof.
American Aquarium is a big-hearted band that manages to make metaphors of hard-drinking and fast-living oddly touching while pouring all their energy into their shows. Imagine blending the Drive by Truckers with Bruce Springsteen, then throw in a little Ryan Adams and some Wilco and top the whole thing off with a bottle of Jameson. That little concoction would yield the unabashed rock and roll/country sound of American Aquarium.
American Aquarium is appearing at George’s Majestic Lounge on Thurs., Jan. 31, with opening act, Damn Arkansan. Visit the band, buy the album, hear the music at their website http://americanaquarium.net/.