Artist: BJ Barham
Release Date: 08/19/2016
Despite their lack of wider recognition, American Aquarium is a band that’s well seasoned in the art of exceptional americana. So that might beg the question of why one of its front men, singer/guitarist BJ Barham, would feel the need to venture out on his own, albeit momentarily, to release a solo album. One would think he already had an outlet for his ideas, and with the band’s recent album Wolves reaping such critical success, it makes Barham’s decision to go it alone that much more perplexing.
Apparently though, this wasn’t something that was planned in advance. The band was on its way to Paris when the terrorist attacks of last November turned potential triumph into tragedy. Barham, moved by the horrendous events they nearly witnessed firsthand, found solace in memories of home, specifically the small town where he once felt so safe and secure. As a result, Rockingham becomes a soundtrack for reflection and recollection, a series of songs with a rustic feel and a nostalgic sensibility. In short, a comforting embrace of home and hearth. Barham conveys that feel with an easy sway and a gentle amble, sketching vivid images of growing up in an innocent, idyllic time when friends and family were never too far. The title track offers a prime example, “Won’t you take me back to where I’m from/where the air’s as thick as tobacco gum/where I was born/where I was raised/on broken promises and glory days.”
Like the American heartland that forms the backdrop to John Mellencamp’s best songs, or the combination of desire and desperation that defines Bruce Springsteen’s vision of freedom and futility, Barham has created a series of aural soundscapes as striking as any conceived by those two modern masters. With its sepia haze and quilted tones, Rockingham becomes the kind of place we all might wish we could have called home.
– Lee Zimmerman