3.5 out of 5 stars
Ever since forming in 2006, American Aquarium has served as the full-band musical outlet for BJ Barham, releasing a record every year or so under a variety of different musical lineups. Barham’s latest record, Things Change, comes after a a complete reconfiguration of American Aquarium’s lineup, with Barham remaining the only constant thread.
On Things Change, Barham digs deeper into the type of reflective sobriety he introduced on the group’s most recent effort, 2015’s Wolves. Set to a well-worn mix of laidback alt-country, Barham is wistful and nostalgic on the Tom Petty-tribute “When We Were Younger Men,” navigating familiar terrain as he meditates on one of his favorite subjects: faded youth and lost time.
Much of Things Change is set to a straightforward template of Bloodshot Records-referencing alt-country, an ever-so-slight change of direction for Barham that still falls well within the type of sonic terrain he’s been navigating over the past decade. With time, his voice has deepened and earned new layers of gravelly weariness, which only adds new layers of depth to new honky-tonk farewells like “Shadows of You” and “I Gave Up The Drinking (Before She Gave Up On Me”).
Produced by John Fullbright, Things Change is a sparsely-produced, clean sounding collection that puts Barham’s well-weathered vocals up front, particularly on ballads “One Day At A Time” and the title track. Meanwhile, mid-tempo pedal-steel numbers like “‘Til That Final Curtain Falls” and the hard-chugging “Tough Folks” offer slightly different shades that help break up the presiding uniformity of the majority of the album.
If Things Change has any fault, it’s that the North Carolina singer-songwriter doesn’t cover too much new ground. But for the most part, it’s an engaging latest chapter in the ever-evolving, consistently compelling storytelling saga of one of this generation’s most overlooked roots country singer-songwriters.