Think Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band if they came up in North Carolina instead of New Jersey. American Aquarium, a true jewel of the Southeast, has relentless toured across the lower half of the United States for years, bringing with them stories of heartbreak and revelry as only sons of the South can.
Though lead singer and guitarist BJ Barham has a drawl, Yankees shouldn’t confuse him or American Aquarium as anything related to the ultra-slick twang coming out of Nashville these days. Like the acclaimed Drive-By Truckers from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, American Aquarium plays a brand of southern rock with all the grit and ne’er-do-well stories of heroes like Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
These bands borrow as much from blues and rock and roll as they do from the country roots of outlaw forefathers Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings.
What’s inspiring about many of Barham’s lyrics is how he grounds them in real places from his life and the lives of other merrymakers that pack into concert halls all over the land beneath the Mason-Dixon.
“Rattlesnake,” my favorite track from their 2010 Small Town Hymns, has one of my favorite lines in any song, by anyone, “And when she called me ‘darling’ I started caterwauling.” The protagonist tells of the woman he met in Little Rock’s White Water Tavern. The White Water has seen a lot of road-weary touring acts and collected famous former patrons like President Bill Clinton, who used to play sax on its worn stage. Said Clinton, “When I was attorney general, I used to tell my staff if they worked hard all week, on Friday we’d go down to the White Water Tavern for a three-hour lunch.”
Things have been looking good for these guys in the past year. They recorded their latest, Burn. Flicker. Die., with Jason Isbell (ex. Drive-By Truckers). And their latest tour includes their first foray into the North. Though there aren’t any shows in Minnesota yet—Chicago and Lawrence, Kansas are the closest—if they keep on this trajectory, it might happen soon enough.
If you’re a fan of country or blues, rock or roots, get on board now. It’s one of the most satisfying things to say to friend, “I told you so. I’ve been listening to these guys since before they were big.”