Country superstar Jason Aldean is used to the adoration of throngs of pop-country fans across the country who dig his brand of rocked-up twangy bravado, but in recent weeks he’s experiencing something new altogether: new fans who can’t stand his music.
“I’ve never even considered listening to Jason Allen [sic] before I heard he had expressed beliefs publicly that aligned with my own,” said Tara McAllen of Gore Springs, MS. “Now I’m thinking about giving him a shot.” She went on to say that despite being a fan of traditional country and Americana, she was open to seeing the error of her ways.
Many people across social media shared similar thoughts throughout the week. When country satire site Farce the Music shared a non-political but negative meme about Aldean, dozens of previous non-Aldean-fans expressed their disdain. “I always new you was a damn liberal…unfollowed!” replied Instagram user effyoubrandon, despite the meme having not even a whiff of partisanship. “Effyoubrandon” also added a photo of himself proudly wearing some of Aldean’s “Anti Biden Social Club” gear.
The trend of music fans putting ideology over art isn’t a recent one (think Dixie Chicks), but has grown as Americans split into camps over issues such as vaccines, gender, and Machine Gun Kelly. It seems many would rather listen to an artist devoid of any depth, talent, or uniqueness simply to “own the libs/repubs.”
When reminded that he’d frequently told outspoken artists Jason Isbell and BJ Barham to “shut up and sing” in the past, Brad Harbor of Panama City, FL retorted “Yeah, but they hate America. Jason Aldean may be a philandering, bloated, mediocre, angry meathead, but at least he knows the damned election was stolen! I can’t wait to go to one of his shows and get drunk enough to tolerate him!”
At press time, Luke Bryan was attempting to formulate a mildly controversial opinion.
Many people use social messaging frames around their profile pics on Facebook to promote political, medical, charitable, social justice and other causes. What if these country singers had frames around their profile pics? What would they say?
When I heard the news last year that American Aquarium was experiencing a mass exodus of all members except for singer-songwriter BJ Barham, I wondered what form Barham would continue on in. I knew that he'd continue. The songwriter in him showed no signs of quit, of having that hard-earned time out on the road be for nothing. I will admit that I was shocked to hear that the name American Aquarium would continue on with all new members. But, at the end of the day, Barham's earnest lyrics and dedicated-to-the-craft workmanship is what made American Aquarium truly work. So, it should be no surprise that the latest output from Barham and new mates is just as impressive as ever.
Barham seems to find that muse of his when his back's against the wall. When he feels like he's been backed into a corner and the only way to get himself out is to fight like hell. It's what we saw with 2012's stellar Burn. Flicker. Die. And now we see it here on Things Change. I think that muse was burning from both ends of the same candle on this latest output as Barham saw not only the end of his band, but a change in the U.S. that was hard for many to grapple with.
I'll get that political upheaval out of the way first because I think that may turn some folks off. It shouldn't. Barham writes from his personal worldview. You might disagree, but he isn't wrong either. When he sings of seeing the hate his grandfather fought against being alive and well, it's there. And, regardless of who won the election of 2016, it was still going to be there. So, before getting mad at yet another artist who should just "shut up and sing," just listen. Try understanding that there are folks out there that are worried- on both sides. We are scared of each other, but we can change that. Music is one of the things that can, and does, bring us together.
As far as the other subjects on the album, there is a mighty heavy dose of regret and hope when it comes to losing friends you've had for years. There's always sadness when you lose someone- whether it be by choice or, god forbid, death. But, there is always hope and happiness in what that change can bring. Barham doesn't shirk responsibility for those relationships failing. He meets them head-on and tries to learn lessons from those failures. He addresses the man he used to be when he would blame every trouble he had on every woman who did him wrong ("One Day At A Time"). He addresses the booze that always led him astray and towards self-destruction ("I Gave Up The Drinking"). Barham knows he isn't perfect, but his ability to stare his demons in the face with hope is what makes the album so incredibly stunning. And, that's just the words...
The music on this album is a synthesis of every single American Aquarium album up until now. There are hard-driving rockers ("Crooked+Straight"), acoustic self-reflective songs ("One Day At A Time"), and straight up country songs ("Work Conquers All"). While the band prior to this iteration was a pretty damn good band, this new band has absolutely crushed any expectations one could have had going into this album. Barham is the glue holding the band together, sure. But, the band takes his bare bones songs and kicks them up countless notches. I don't think Barham could have chosen a better group of musicians for this new era of American Aquarium and I can't wait to hear where this band goes from here.
So, give these songs a listen. Take time with them. Don't get turned off because he says something that might not be what you want to hear. Hear it from his point of view. Music is the great equalizer and as always, hope springs eternal. And don't forget to go see Barham and crew as they come to your town!
Things Change is available everywhere you enjoy good music.
Live Review: BJ Barham, Jammin' Java, 12/3/2016 By Matthew Martin
If you don't know who BJ Barham is, I'll go ahead and get that out of the way. He's the frontman of longtime, hard-working band, American Aquarium out of Raleigh, NC. His debut solo album, Rockingham, is something else and I highly recommend it. If there's one thing that I don't like about the album it's that it is a short album at only 8 songs. But, that's unfair. Many great albums contain 8 songs- both Japandroids albums, Led Zeppelin's IV, Metallica's Master of Puppets, etc. The album doesn't contain a blemish. It's the work of a determined man with stories to get out. For those that don't know the story- Barham and band were overseas when the Paris attacks occurred and the band was put up in a hotel for three days where Barham felt isolated and anxious, and wrote songs to deal with his situation.
With that said, BJ is a showman and live is the best way to experience these songs. I've seen American Aquarium play somewhere around 10 times, I believe. Hell, my dad has had the guys play in our front yard out in my hometown of Pulaski, TN. But I'd never seen a BJ solo show. Seeing him sing and play these songs live with only his guitar as accompaniment is a treat. I'll also go ahead and get it out of the way that it was a hell of an evening with about an hour and a half of music and stories in between.
BJ played all the songs off the solo album plus a few American Aquarium songs that really benefited from the solo setting. One such song was "Man I'm Supposed to Be." The song is already pretty minimal on the album Wolves but seeing it with just BJ and his guitar was really more of a punch to the gut than I had been ready for. Maybe it was the coupling with touching songs off the solo album, but it was quite a song to hear in that setting.
The solo songs were the real winners here, though, and the song "Unfortunate Kind" was the most effective. With the lines, "Do you remember that first week?/When you burnt that pecan pie/And I ate the whole damn thing/I couldn't stand to see you cry," you could hear the crowd nearly gasp. It's a simple statement filled with so many different emotions. It's a case-in-point of what makes BJ such an affecting and clever songwriter. The ability to take a mundane situation and make it into a moment with much more gravity – it's not something just any songwriter can do.
There isn't much more I can say about BJ or the show. If you get a chance to go see American Aquarium, go do so. But, if you get a chance to see BJ play a solo show, drop what you're doing and do it. He doesn't play as many solo shows as he does with the band and you need to see these songs played this way. So, go see him as soon as you can, and until then go buy Rockingham wherever it is you buy music. Support these artists so they'll continue doing these things that bring us so much joy.