LOSING SIDE RECORDS / THIRTY TIGERS
On their ninth studio album, American Aquarium and frontman BJ Barham take a deep dive into loss and ultimately seek to provide solace and hope to the listener. Their brand of emotive Americana is perfectly suited to this kind of subject matter as they tread the middle ground between raw roots music and slow-strummed tearjerkers.
Compared to earlier albums, this one sounds cleaner and sparser in the arrangements and mix. The result is a greater focus on Barham’s vocal and lyrics – an astute move given the arresting nature of the songs and a testament to the restraint and nuanced playing of the rest of the band. For Barham, the loss at the core of the album devastatingly includes his mother (‘The First Year’), grandmother, a child and a friend to suicide (‘Walking Up The Echoes’). That may sound overwhelmingly heavy and sad but his ability to objectively absorb the heartbreak and contextualise in the great journey of life provides light at the end of the tunnel.
The stripped back nature of Chicamacomico places it in the same stylistic realm of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle and to his credit, Barham holds his own amongst that company with his economical and affecting songwriting – particularly on the ache of ‘The Hardest Thing’.