American Aquarium – Lamentations (New West)

According to Wikipedia, Lamentations is is a collection of poetic laments for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE and is one of the books of the Old Testament in the Christian bible. As the Jews lamented the destruction of Jerusalem, so does American Aquarium singer/songwriter BJ Barham lament the state of the US…the South in particular.

American Aquarium, the band, has been bouncing around since 2005 but I must admit my only interest in them until now has been the fact that they named themselves after a song by Wilco. But with all this extra time available for listening to music, I have had the chance to check out Lamentations and I am very impressed.

The album opens with Me + Mine, a nearly seven minute commentary on the state of living in the Southern US (the band is based in North Carolina).

“Me and mine have worked this land as long as my grandfather can remember”, Barham sings in a Southern drawl that could almost place him as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Then as the song progresses:

“What are you supposed to do,
When the God you’re prayin’ to
Up and goes missin’?
Leaves a trail on unpaid bills
Broken homes and opioid addiction
And then a politician shows up
Promisin’ that
He’ll return the jobs
That God himself could not bring back

Fool me once, shame on you
Fool me twice, shame on me
Yeah, that’s the day I gave up
On the American dream”

Its powerful stuff bordering on what some of his countrymen may consider blasphemy.

But Barham is equally hard on himself. Along with politically-tinged songs such as Brightleaf + Burley and A Better South, there are personal tunes such as Six Years Come September and The Day I Learned To Lie To You…songs filled with remorse, regret and self loathing.

“I ain’t had a drop to drink since the day that you left me
Six years come September, I’ve been cursed with this clarity
I had to stare in the mirror yellin’ at a stranger looking back at me
And the ghost of the man I could’ve been still haunts all my dreams.”

Lyrically, these are powerful…almost impossible to listen to.

Musically, the band is strong. Barham is joined by several new members on guitar, pedal steel, drums and keyboards and assisted from time to time by The Watson Sisters.

The resulting sound finds American Aquarium recalling The Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen and, yes, Wilco.

But BJ Barham has developed into a first-class songwriter and the 10 songs that make up Lamentations can stand up to anything written by the acts he is compared to.

His self-examination is harrowing and emotional and his opinion of his country and his countrymen is scathing.

Let’s hope someone is listening.

Marty Duda