Nights of love and loss with American Aquarium

American Aquarium at The Jinx, May 2010

I first heard the Raleigh-based band American Aquarium on March 16, 2009. I remember the date so specifically because that was the night before St. Patrick’s Day, generally the wildest night of the year in Savannah. By mid-evening, downtown was already headed to a night of drunken sloppiness.

American Aquarium was an opening act that night, and when they took the stage early, I was struck by several things: the obvious challenges of traveling with and paying a six-member band, the clarity of each instrument in the mix, the polish of the stage presence, the clear delineation of roles with no one besides lead singer BJ Barham doing vocals.

And then they quit after one song. That was just the sound check.

I came back later for the entire energetic set, and I’ve been an American Aquarium fan ever since — any chance I get, I mention them in my column, link to their upcoming local shows on Facebook, tell friends that they might be seeing an up-and-coming band destined for much, much bigger things. The live shows are hard-charging — imagine early Springsteen, but with a southern backwoods edge; the songs often tackle loves found and, mostly, lost. With their most recent album “Small Town Hymns” American Aquarium has found new layers of emotional resonance that reflect tough times. “Reidsville,” about growing up and searching for meaning under economic pressure in a small southern town, is a sort of anthem for kids who settled for too little, too soon.

Several great tracks, including “Rattlesnake” and “Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight,” can be heard on the band’s MySpace page. Albums can be downloaded directly from the band’s website. American Aquarium also did a great live session with the folks at Daytrotter.

When the full band is not out touring or developing new material, BJ Barham is sometimes performing solo acoustic shows. In late 2010, on a very quiet Monday night, BJ and Jason Kutchma from Red Collar did lovely, emotional acoustic sets at The Jinx in Savannah.

To get a sense of that experience, here’s BJ doing a solo acoustic version of “Hurricane,” one of AA’s signature songs:

American Aquarium will be back at The Jinx on Congress St. in Savannah on January 22nd, 2011.

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