American Aquarium is from Raleigh, NC. And yes, every review you read about them will compare them to Whiskeytown. But, to their credit, American Aquarium embraces the comparison on their second full length, The Bible and the Bottle. Skillet Gilmore (drums for Whiskeytown) does the artwork. Caitlin Cary (founding member Whiskeytown) contributes background vocals to a couple of tracks. Greg Elkins (produced Rural Free Delivery for Whiskeytown) is at the controls.
But, for those of you haven’t heard of American Aquarium Whiskeytown meets Lucero is an adequate comparison. Fueled by the vocal phrasings and sharp lyrics of frontman BJ Barham, the band combines the alt. country stylings of Whiskeytown with the intensity of Lucero. Barham’s lyrics are worthy of either Nichols or Adams, favorite lines of mine include “she takes her coffee one sugar one cream/ she takes her coffee just like me” and “when I’m sober I pray to Jesus/ when I’m drunk thats when I talk to god/ well the bible and the bottle both deceive us/ into thinking we’re something we’re not”. American Aquarium as a
musical force is a combustible force in its own right, keyboards, organ, violin, acoustic, electric, and lap steel guitars come together behind Barham in a typical, yet commanding alt. country fashion.
However, the sound of the album does not quite capture the live energy of the band. Such is the case with “Telling A Lie”, a strong song that is signature tune of American Aquarium’s live show that fails to truly take off here. That being said, The Bible and the Bottle is a strong record that should bring the band to the attention of the entire alt. country community (and perhaps beyond).
American Aquarium has made a GREAT record though, and it is the recorded live to tape EP, Bones. Recorded in a friend of the band’s living room, straight to tape with no overdubs, the six song EP not only captures the band’s soul, but also features some of Barham’s best writing. Written in the wake of a recent break-up, the six songs feature a familiar theme of Barham’s, the women that either got away or did him wrong. This is the kind of record that legends are made of.
Bones begins with a minamalist almost R&B like electric guitar before the lyrics settle in with “lonely ain’t easy/ lonely ain’t kind/ lonely won’t leave me/ she’s a good friend of mine”. The song, “Lonely Ain’t Easy” expands to include mandolin and violinist Sarah Mann’s background vocals. Next up is “Emelia”, a song that features a great arrangement particularly the piano parts supplied by Zack Brown. Followed up by “Bigger in Texas”, sounding like Lucero’s Ben Nichols, Barham has several great lines in the song including “the boys they’re running on empty/ my pockets they’re doin’ the same/ that second hand bar in ARKANSAS is the only thing I can blame” as well as “these bar stools are where I spend most of my nights/ the ghosts of dead
cigarettes/ these beautiful girls with their strings of pearls/ no good to help me forget/ back home I got a lover/ lover thats too good for me/ these late night calls from the bathroom stalls/ no help……”. The next two songs, “Betting Man” and title track “Bones” would both fit nicely onto Bob Dylan’s classic Blood on the Tracks. The closing track “Good Fight” is the only true rocker on the record and the kind of song that Ryan Adams hasn’t written since Heartbreaker. Lyrics like “Why would you ask for the truth/ truth’s something you don’t understand/ I don’t know why I asked you to stay/ you’re so damn good at walking away/ you’re so damn good at walking away, hey” finnish the EP with a song that’ll leave you singing the chorus well after your cd (or mp3) is over. Bones is a little rough, but a masterful stoke by the band.
check out their myspace for tour dates and tracks from the record(s)
they are touring all the way out west right now, before swinging back through the southeast…..
About the author: Specializes in Dead, Drunk, and Nakedness..... Former College Radio DJ and Current Craft Beer Nerd