Album Review by Roger Sharman.
The release of 2018’s ‘Thing’s Change’ album was a really significant moment in the story of American Aquarium. It was the first release since North Carolina native, BJ Barham announced on Facebook, back in April 2017 that American Aquarium, would no longer continue in their existing form.
Since that day American Aquarium have gone from strength to strength, building on the release of ‘Things Change’ with last years, critically acclaimed ‘Lamentations’ album, which has seen the band rise to the fore of the current Alt.Country scene.
That being said, American Aquarium have had a strong and loyal following that can be traced way back to 2008, and ‘The Bottle and the Bible’ record. Also, it’s fair to say that BJ has always written very powerful, gritty songs. He’s always had something to say, about Politics, Human Rights and Equality, and is quite Un-American in his views. The birth of his daughter and sobriety, I think its fair to say, are probably the two biggest successes of BJ’s life and the maturity that has come with it has had a huge effect on his writing, and having interviewed BJ back in 2018, I know he feels that he’s a much more rounded person, and a better human being in general terms.
BJ’s absolutely stunning solo album, ‘Rockingham’ released back in August 2016 stands as proof of all I’ve alluded to so far, and if you’re not familiar with it then you really should be.
Pre 2018, ‘Slappers, Bangers and Certified Twangers’ Vol.1 I’m sure would never even have been a thought that entered BJ’s head. That alone, I believe, bears testament to the fundamental shift the newest member of the Barham family had on BJ’s life. He’s certainly a lot happier and settled than he was before.
The release of ‘Slappers, Bangers and Certified Twangers Vol.1 was a complete out of the blue release for me. Now anyone over a certain age will know and love all of these songs. Readers, I would say that you probably know all of the songs already, and certainly at least one of them, all from the classic ‘Big Country’ period, as I call it, back when hair was big and tightly permed, and mainstream Country was still palatable.
BJ has said that these are the songs that he grew up with, they all mean something to him and undoubtedly, these songs will mean something to many of you, I know they do to me. Each of these songs sound as good today as they did twenty-five to thirty years ago, in fact I would go so far as to say that, American Aquarium own many of these songs now in my opinion, flawlessly switching from Faith Hills ‘Wild One’ to Joe Diffie’s masterpiece ‘John Deere Green’ is an example of the versatility of American Aquarium and the quality of the songwriting. I’m just so glad that these songs have been so beautifully remade that the younger folks amongst now get to appreciate them.
Even the tracks that were made famous by female legends such as ‘I Try to Think About Elvis’ by Patty Loveless, and Trish Yearwood’s ‘She’s in Love with the Boy’ are reworked to absolute perfection, indeed my absolute favourite on the Album, is another song that’s had the male makeover, Jo Dee Messina’s classic ‘Heads Carolina, Tails California’, which is three and a half minutes of absolute bliss to me, mainstream country as it’s supposed to be.
One of the things that really makes this record for me is that BJ and the Boys didn’t go out of their way to do anything too radical in changing the songs up, they’ve left them pretty much the way they sounded back in their day, this will open them up for comparison with the original version and they all stand up favourably. Perfect examples of this are the first two tracks on the album, Sammy Kershaw’s monster hit ‘Queen of My Double-Wide Trailer’ and Sawyer Brown’s absolute banger Some Girls Do.
One thing that I wanted to mention in this review is the incredible contribution to the record by one of the most astonishing voices in music, Jamie Lin Wilson, who I believe backed every single song on the record. Now, if you don’t know that young lady’s music, then you have been missing something in your life and you need to correct that right now.
For me this record captures everything that is needed after the last year and a half that we’ve had. It’s bright and breezy, it’s fun, it brings back fond memories of yester year, for me anyway, and if these songs ever see the light of day live (and I know some of them have already at Mileofest and other shows) they will be euphoric moments that you can smile and nod and say “I was there” too.
Before anyone asks, the answer is yes, there is a Vol.2 planned.
1) Queen of My Double-Wide trailer (Sammy Kershaw)
2) Some Girls Do: (Sawyer Brown)
3) I Try to Think About Elvis: (Patty Loveless)
4) She’s in Love with the Boy: (Trish Yearwood)
5) John Deere Green: (Joe Diffie)
6) Wild One: (Faith Hill)
7) Lost and Found: (Brooks and Dunn)
8) Down at the Twist and Shout: (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
9) Heads Carolina, Tails California: (Jo Dee Messina)
10) Should’ve Been a Cowboy: (Toby Keith).
Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers Vol.1 is out now on Losing Side Records, and distributed by Thirty Tigers.