Album Review: American Aquarium - Chicamacomico

Be forewarned: there’s a lot of death on American Aquarium’s Chicamacomico album. Most significantly, is the song “The First Year,” which finds leader BJ Barham mourning his mother’s recent passing. Although he somewhat made it through her funeral in once piece, each and every holiday that he ‘celebrated’ without her, just tore him apart. Later, “The Hardest Thing” seemingly finds Barham still trying to come to grips with the loss of his mom. On this one, though, he addresses how he just can’t stop thinking about her. Then for “Waking Up The Echoes,” Barham sings about a friend that had presumably committed suicide. That’s three death songs out of ten songs total, which is a lot.

Thankfully, this album of multiple hurting songs closes with “All I Needed.” It’s a thumping, country rocker that every serious music fan will appreciate. It’s about how Barham catches a song that says just what he needs to hear over the radio. All honest music nerds have been there, too. A great new song can change your whole mood and transform a bad day into a pretty good one. Although this track includes roots rock organ and electric guitar chords, it also incorporates plenty of fine steel guitar. This may not be traditional country, but it’s country enough for fans.

“Little Things,” with the nice, saloon piano in its mix, describes the small experiences in life that help keep us sane. It also details Barham’s newfound domestic bliss. Likely, he rediscovered the joys of family life while being off the road during the pandemic. “I used to be a singer with a family back home,” Barham confesses at one point, “And now I’m just a father and a husband/Who knows his way around a microphone.” Although he sings it in an offhand manner, this nevertheless is a significant life transformation. He’s telling us that his band, American Aquarium, used to be his whole life. Now, though, his family comes first. Maybe it took a worldwide pandemic to make him see what’s most important in his world. Whatever it takes, though.

The rumbling rocker, “Built to Last,” is Barham extolling the strength of his marriage. He begins by singing, “They don’t build a heart like they used to,” before explaining how his relationship is an exception to this pessimistic rule. He uses a motor vehicle analogy to illustrate how – although it’s sometimes not much to look at – his love was “built to last.” These days, image and identity are nearly everything. The lives people present to the world on Facebook, are usually not the everyday lives they’re actually living. Most folks don’t post all the ugly parts of their lives. And then it’s always sad to see relationships – ones that once looked so solid on social media – completely fall apart. These two looked so happy together. With “Built to Last,” Barham isn’t painting a pretty picture of his relationship. It’s sometimes an eyesore, both internally and to the outside world. Nevertheless, he’s fully confident this love will stand the test of time.

American Aquarium, much like Drive-By Truckers, play music that’s as much rock, as it is country. They also write songs the explore the cold hard facts of life, in disturbing detail at times. This is not toe-tapping, Hee Haw music. It’s closer to emo with twang, instead. However,Chicamacomico consistently chimes with a ring of truth, which is the highest praise of all.