AMERICAN AQUARIUM, “RATTLESNAKE”
originally published on thepeoplesmusic.us
American Aquarium’s new album Small Town Hymns is out May 1st. In the mean time, they’ve posted a few of their new songs online, including “Rattlesnake,” above.
At a time when so many bands are busy dicking around with art school interpretations of roots music, trying to reinvent the wheelbarrow and create an avant-garde Americana revolution, it’s refreshing to hear American Aquarium throw a fastball right down the middle. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not following some sort of path or formula. Quite the opposite— they’re following the songs, and frontman BJ Barham can write a hell of a song.
A lot of songwriters would need three rhyming dictionaries and a farmer’s almanac to write the line, “and when she called me ‘darlin,’ I started caterwaulin’,” but for BJ it comes naturally, as if there’s no other way to describe how he felt at that moment. But it’s not just BJ alone he makes these songs so solid. The rest of the band shows remarkable maturity for what’s still a relatively young group of guys. No one’s trying to show off or act like they’re God’s gift to guitars, as if they could make it rain and impregnate a woman with a single note. They play exactly what is needed to support and drive the songs and stories, rocking just as hard as possible, but without getting in the way.
Some people compare BJ Barham to Ryan Adams, primarily because they’re both from North Carolina, which I suppose is better than comparing him to, say Jesse Helms, but I’ve never felt the Ryan Adams comparison was quite right. Sure, in a very broad since, you could say, “hey, if you like Whiskeytown’s stuff or Heartbreaker, you’ll like this,” but it’s a bit of a misnomer to say he’s another Ryan Adams. I always sort of got the feeling that if a bar fight broke out around Ryan Adams, he would slap himself in the face, curl up in the fetal position and cry until the dust settled. Then he’d track his sobbing over distorted voicemails of Courtney Love accusing him of stealing all of Bean’s money and release it as a double album, insisting it’s punk rock. I don’t think BJ would do that.
Sure, there’s plenty of heartbreak in BJ’s songs, but it’s less like the type of heartbreak someone would scribble in their diary at an independent coffee shop, and more like the kind of heartbreak you’d yell into that merciless bitch’s voicemail a couple hours after closing time. Listen to “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” alternately titled “Whore song.” (off the previous album).