On a Friday night in 2016, my music loving friend The Judge and I were searching for some music to see late night. He suggested a 10:00 show at Club Cafe. His taste is usually amazing as he’s introduced me to several of my favorites. We picked a band we’d never seen based on time and the description. We had no idea what we were getting into.
We ended up getting the last two tickets to a band that was making their first Pittsburgh stop (as I recall them saying anyhow). From Raleigh, North Carolina the band American Aquarium had the sell out crowd singing along to every word from start to finish. Everyone but me and The Judge, that is. I was struck by this song in particular:
Sure the crowd helped, but the songs, singing, and music were all captivating. I was a fan immediately and felt that feeling in my gut where I know I’ve stopped time and space. Everyone in the joint shared this experience. Yeah, they’re that good.
I’ve since bought every record and seen them a couple more times. To call these guys rock or country or folk rock or southern rock or americana or alt-country doesn’t fit. It’s American Music.
This song is usually their closer and had me singing along that first night.
The band has undergone significant line up changes with only lead singer/songwriter. B. J. Barham the constant. He said once said on Facebook in 2017, “Over the last 12 years I’ve played 3000+ shows with 26 different members of American Aquarium. We’ve been to 13 countries, 46 states and have recorded 9 albums under the American Aquarium name. It is with a heavy heart that I’m here to say the current lineup of American Aquarium is no more.”
He’s since put together a line-up of Shane Boeker on lead guitar, drummer Joey Bybee, bassist Ben Hussey, and Adam Kurtz on pedal steel and electric guitar. They roared back with 2018’s Things Change released on New West Records which has released records from Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Rickie Lee Jones, Kris Kristofferson Delbert McClinton, Benji Hughes, Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell, and Vic Chesnutt.
When I saw Barham play a solo show, he announced that he had quit drinking. While I was happy for him, I wondered what he would write about as many of his songs dealt with bars, drinking, late nights and the results thereof. My fears were unfounded as the new record deals with his sobriety, religion, getting married, having a child and (most surprisingly) the fall out from the 2016 election. He retains his straightforward storytelling and deftly applies it to these subjects with glorious results.