American Aquarium Drops Surprise Album of 90’s Country Hits
American Aquarium and frontman BJ Barham have never been true country, but more country adjacent from their focus on songwriting and the alt-country approach to roots music, as well as their close relationship with many in the Texas and Red Dirt scene. But now they’re not just dipping their toes in the country water, their taking a full on plunge into the genre with the surprise release of a slew of country music covers under the banner Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers: Volume One.
Hinted at here and there previously by BJ Barham, this unabashed foray into early 90’s country hits such as Sammy Kershaw’s “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green,” and “I Try To Think About Elvis” by Patty Loveless isn’t just your run-of-the-mill gaggle of tasteful covers that still find favor with today’s audience. American Aquarium is going full on redneck country here. We’re talking atomic mullet, sleeves cut off, call-your-cousin-with-the-Hemi-and-tow-chain-to-get-us-out-of-the-mud country.
And what’s cool about Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers is it’s not all the obvious cuts from that era. In fact, it’s kind of the opposite. Aside from Trisha Yearwood’s “She In Love With The Boy,” these are mostly the other hits that spent a week or two near the top of the charts, and then passed into memory. You include Garth’s “The Thunder Rolls” or something, and it would just be not nearly as cool, while including something like Toby Keith’s debut single and first #1 hit “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” from 1993 gives this album the perfect amount of irony.
Of course there is a campy element to all of this, which some may find a little off-putting, though it shouldn’t be taken as insult. It’s a great illustration of how even some of the dumbest country songs of the early 90’s are still so much better than the country music of today, even without the nostalgia factor.
I’m sure that some will surmise that especially with the song selection, perhaps BJ Barham and American Aquarium are attempting to make fun of redneck America here, and may even cite BJ’s propensity to get political on your ass as further evidence. But this is a passion project by definition. If you use the nostalgia calculator, these were many of the songs playing on the radio when a young BJ was growing up in North Carolina, selected from a narrow window of around three years with only a couple of exceptions.
Musically, of course everything is rendered with a little bit more of a rock attitude than the originals since this is American Aquarium, though there is plenty of steel guitar here. And nobody’s ever charged BJ Barham with having the perfect voice for old school country. Do we really need a rendition of him singing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Down at the Twist and Shout?” Of course not. But again, that’s not the point.
This is supposed to be a fun album, so don’t get too ahead of yourself trying to find reasons to criticize it. Of course many of these aren’t better than the originals, but nobody’s trying for that. If they were, it would be a lot less cool. Also, hats off to the cover art inspired by a Levi’s jeans label. Let’s just hope they don’t get cease and desisted by some tight-assed money changers.
This is the kind of album many bands and artists threaten to make. American Aquarium went off and actually did it.
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Purchase from American Aquarium
Slappers, Bangers, and Certified Twangers Track List:
1. “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” (Sammy Kershaw)
2. “Some Girls Do” (Sawyer Brown)
3. “I Try To Think About Elvis” (Patty Loveless)
4. “She’s In Love With the Boy” (Trisha Yearwood)
5. “John Deere Green” (Joe Diffie)
6. “Wild One” (Faith Hill)
7. “Lost and Found” (Brooks & Dunn)
8. “Down at the Twist and Shout” (Mary Chapin Carpenter)
9. “Heads Carolina, Tails California” (Jo Dee Messina)
10. “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” (Toby Keith)
May 6, 2021 @ 9:09 pm
I have never listened to any of AA’s music, but considering their excellent taste in 90s country, I sure will now. What a great project!
May 6, 2021 @ 9:21 pm
bought this on itunes right away and about to talk myself into a physical copy…. maybe on cassette lol
a lot of fun – although my wife was rolling her eyes
May 6, 2021 @ 9:23 pm
May 6, 2021 @ 9:23 pm
And the implication, of course, is that there is more coming, ala the Sturgill Bluegrass records.
“May eff around and release three albums this year.”-BJ Barham
Jason R Kirby
May 13, 2021 @ 5:11 pm
It does clearly say Vol. One on the artwork.
I’m certainly down for more!
May 13, 2021 @ 6:31 pm
BJ confirmed a day or so ago a Vol.2 will drop, but he’s not divulging when.
May 6, 2021 @ 9:33 pm
What are the odds that the album cover is a reference to John Michael Montgomery’s greatest hits album?
May 7, 2021 @ 11:19 am
May 7, 2021 @ 3:13 pm
Ha, That’s what I was thinking, too! Either way, it’s the perfect cover for this album.
May 6, 2021 @ 11:04 pm
I have 4,9, and 10 on my MP3 player. None of this new fangled technology called Spotify or Apple music around here in rural New Zealand.
May 7, 2021 @ 1:26 am
Had no idea you played guitar, Trig!!! Looking good!!
( Lol. The photo caption is a bit deceiving )
No idea who this band is, but their band name is awesome!! I hope they are as good as “Ned & the Needle Fish” from Bikini Bottom.
May 7, 2021 @ 4:19 am
This release made an already great day for country music releases even better. I’m so glad you graded this fairly. None of the songs I would say is better than the original but I do love their version of “John Deere Green” the best. It’s just a fun album from start to finish.
May 7, 2021 @ 11:21 am
Yeah, I’m catching some hell for my grade, but I think it’s fair. A very fun album and I’m glad they released it. But ultimately it’s cover material, which is going to dock it a point or two out of the gate. Not a knock on the material as much as setting it in context with more original records.
May 7, 2021 @ 4:24 am
How long before the music industry (the non-touring side of the business) recovers from the pandemic? Or does it ever? Was the industry as we knew it all ready changing prior to the pandemic? These Covid projects are a cute novelty and good for a listen or two, but I’m starving for something with red meat on the bone! It’s a single here, and EP there, a forgetful project to tie us over. It’s May 7th and I only have 3 very good albums in my 2021 collection – Mac Leaphart, Addison Johnson, Rob Leines (this after a skimpy 2020).
At one point tragedy and injustice fueled creative output (look at the 60s and 70s). The pandemic, the resent rise in social justice awareness, and the most polarizing President hasn’t sparked any great music from artists. Maybe it’s coming down the pipeline or maybe the industry (like the restaurant industry) was at a tipping point prior to the pandemic and it won’t sound the same ever again.
May 7, 2021 @ 5:46 am
During the pandemic, a lot of artists were holding back their best stuff because the belief in the independent music industry is the best way to promote an album is to tour behind it, especially if you’re an up-and-coming band. That’s why we haven’t heard from Sierra Ferrell, that is why American Aquarium is putting this out as opposed to a new studio album, and on down the line. But now that things are opening up, I believe that will change, and dramatically. I think there’s going to be a flood of releases, along with tons of tours, and we’re all going to have our work cut out for us just to stay on top of everything.
May 7, 2021 @ 3:37 pm
They released “Lamentations” not too long ago and made every Alt-Country and Americana list out there. Isbell’s “Reunions” kind of sucked the air out of the room. (In a good way)
May 7, 2021 @ 5:37 am
downloaded first thing this morning.
1. this album is a lot of fun
2. I genuinely believe he grew up listening to these songs as a kid, and that they are woven into the fabric of his creative output as much as anything he might have heard from Bob Dylan, Springsteen or the Clash.
3. his politics still suck.
May 7, 2021 @ 6:00 am
I *really* like Me and Mine (Lamentations), so much so I added it to my own song book- the posted video is a little noisy for first thing in the mornin- for my tastes- I do admire those who do obscure or fairly obscure “covers”- I work at doin that me self-
May 7, 2021 @ 6:15 am
Ashley Monroe: Take notes.
May 7, 2021 @ 6:35 am
Great covers but is it just me that i think he is kinda pokin fun at all of us. Lol. Hes like here ya go, lets do one for the rednecks to stay legitimate. Maybe vol. 2 will be 90s pop rock covers or hip hop!
May 7, 2021 @ 6:46 am
No I think he legitimately loves these songs. Seen him live several times on his solo acoustic shows and he talks about loving 90s country and blaring it in the van. It’s his guilty pleasure.
May 7, 2021 @ 8:40 am
During his Mile 0 Fest set he talked about how 90s country is what he grew up listening to in his daddy’s truck and burning his legs on the vinyl seats. I 100% believe he has a love of these songs and this era of country music. Even if he did come out with an album of pop rock covers, cool, I look forward to it. Much like BJ, I grew up on all of these 90s country songs, but also listened to Hootie and the Blowfish, Dave Matthews, Puff Daddy, Biggie, Tupac, Metallica. I think this is showing more of who he is as an artist that he loves and appreciates a broad spectrum of music and wants to put his spin on it. I guarantee he could give 2 sh*ts about trying to “stay legitimate” to the rednecks. That’s not the kind of guy he is.
Let’s just appreciate that he put out a really cool record and I can’t wait to see what volume 2 has in store. I’ve got some great 90s pop rock tunes I’d love to hear him do, if he needs any suggestions.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:56 am
early on in the pandemic he did weekly instagram live (live? instagram TV? whatever) posts of him playing all sorts of songs, some really good covers that i hope winds up on Vol2 or 3 at some point…. a standout i recall was 6th Ave Heartache by the Wallflowers and i wanna say there was a Gaslight Anthem cover… though i mightve been just fantasizing about that…
May 9, 2021 @ 8:43 am
He did a Gaslight cover of 59 sound. Also did a Lucero cover of I believe I Can Get Us out of Here Tonight…I think he put out a cover every day for at least 50 days?!
Say what you want about their politics or whatever, but BJ Barham, Ben Nichols from Lucero, and Ryan Bingham in my opinion worked the hardest during the early stages of Covid to try and stay connected with fans. I know it helped me get through some hard times and I’m sure it also helped the musicians navigate their way through some unprecedented times.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:12 am
No, he’s serious as a heart attack. Just because BJ doesn’t have typical redneck politics, doesn’t mean he isn’t a redneck at heart. He grew up in a small town in the mid 90’s hearing these songs every single day. I’m the same age as BJ, grew up in a small town (still live in a small town), and more or less share his politics (I don’t share his style of brow beating people with them), and I love these songs. He’s not poking fun at anyone. This is who he is, where he came from. Just because someone doesn’t check the same box on a ballot doesn’t really mean shit about anything.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2021 @ 6:19 pm
Don’t think BJ even “browbeats” folks – he just treats his personal Twitter feed as his personal Twitter feed, and isn’t shy about slapping down people who try to go after him for having different opinions than they do.
May 10, 2021 @ 10:25 am
This is similar to my story as well. All of these songs took me back to working in a local butcher shop or taking on odd summer jobs working on a farm or sheep ranch. I am now an urban dwelling suit-and-tie professional, but that doesn’t mean I am not nostalgic for my small town days when my anxiety was in the black and my neck was red.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:50 am
I think it’s genuine. He’d tell you unironically that he’s a redneck himself.
May 8, 2021 @ 8:19 am
That’s just you and your inferiority complex. Not everyone is out to get you.
May 8, 2021 @ 9:52 am
Wow, ive got some comebacker comments for 2 days straight now! I wasnt bashing the band or their politics, i could care less. AA has obviously got some passionate fans and i respect that. Rough time to be a conservative on any level at the moment, but it sounds like his heart is in the right place for these songs. I stand corrected. Ill tred a little lighter next time, just havin an opinion.
May 7, 2021 @ 8:17 am
In a year where all I have wanted is to hear a great cover band in a bar while drinking a macro-brewed pilsner, this album hits the exact sweet spot of that moment.
I have been a big AA fan for a while and this validating that fandom.
May 7, 2021 @ 8:19 am
Only gave this a quick listen this morning, but sounds like a fun album so far. I’m sure this will get a lot of play around the pool this summer.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:21 am
BJ Barham trying to do his best “Kevin Fowler impersonating Sammy Kershaw” impersonation.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:45 am
I buy anything and everything American Aquarium puts out, and this is no exception.
I am not into mainstream country nowadays, but I recognized almost all of these songs instantly from my childhood.
I loved the album. Hopefully he plays a few of these live going forward. That would be fun.
May 7, 2021 @ 9:49 am
He was playing alot of covers in the early days or ‘rona on facebook/instagram, glad to see he’s putting out an album.
BJs range of musical tastes is pretty vast, and I love to see him taking the time to put out something like this. I’m hoping the 90s country influences continue to roll over into his original work. Their last album was their most country yet, and the best to my ears.
May 7, 2021 @ 10:17 am
A+ for taste in music, C- for execution.
I like BJs work, but you gotta take a chance with these covers and tweak the arrangements somewhat. If you just play them, people are just going to compare to the original. And while I love BJ as an artist, his vocal ability falls well short of everyone on that original track listing.
Fun album to listen to once because all of those songs are absolute classics, but I don’t think I’ll go back to it ever again.
May 7, 2021 @ 2:58 pm
You nailed it. The variety of rarely-covered hits is great, but his vocals, his energy, and the arrangements just don’t reach the heights of the originals. Hearing these songs live would probably be a much more captivating experience, but in album form, I found myself thinking, “Why don’t I just go and listen to the original recordings?” If they had fun making it, that’s what matters, and maybe a Volume 2 will contribute a bit more to its covers.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2021 @ 6:20 pm
Loved BJ’s tweet about not matching up to the originals, which was “Well, duh! They’re all a hell of a lot better than I’ll ever be!”
Colby and the Fudge Rounds
May 7, 2021 @ 10:31 am
Yeah I saw him cover Hal Ketchum’s small town Saturday night about seven years ago and it was great. Was hoping that one would be on here, still very cool album.
May 7, 2021 @ 10:42 am
I do not own any of their stuff previously. Have followed them and listened to their music before though. Enjoyed the covers bj did during quarantine. I seen this article and the info on it when I woke up today. Ordered it right away. Glad to support this kind of project.
May 7, 2021 @ 12:25 pm
The album I didn’t know I needed or wanted. Damn! And the title of the album is apt.
May 7, 2021 @ 8:44 pm
This one looks like a real goer for me.
Not least because most 90’s country passed me by, while I was caught up in the whole grunge/indie thing! Will definitely check this out on i-Tunes.
May 8, 2021 @ 8:49 pm
O MAN THE TRACK LISTING! IM GONNA JIZZ!
Aaron Lee Dorman
May 10, 2021 @ 9:02 am
There’s a difference between BJ and his politics and say, Jason Isbell and his. I used to listen to both all the time. I don’t agree with either of them politically, but Isbell’s pompousness turned me off his music years ago. BJ never comes off holier than thou, he has his opinions and sticks to them and he treats his fans great. I’ve lost count of the number of shows I’ve been to, but it’s to the point where he knows me when he sees me.
May 10, 2021 @ 10:12 am
I don’t take any political affiliation, but I completely agree with your assessment. It’s a difference in delivery. BJ comes across as just an opinionated, and perhaps prickly individual who even if you disagree with, you just roll your eyes at and move on while still appreciating his music. With Jason Isbell, there is an elitist, down-looking attitude he takes that crosses the line into outright bullying and bigotry that the entire Americana community should be embarrassed by and actively renounce, even though he’s regularly lauded for this behavior specifically. I don’t say this about Isbell to stab a knife in his back, but as a constructive observation. And of course if you make such an observation about Isbell, the only explanation is that you’re a Trump supporter, and a racist misogynist.
May 11, 2021 @ 10:30 am
Not that you could get a beer with either of them (since they’re both sober) but I guarantee one with BJ would be a lot more of a pleasant experience than Jason.
Cool Lester Smooth
June 17, 2021 @ 7:34 am
Eh. I think they’d be different, but both very fun.
You and BJ would be talking about life and shit…while Jason would be holding forth about all sorts of eclectic nonsense.
It’s like hanging with William Clark Green vs. Steve Earle.
May 11, 2021 @ 5:59 pm
Sweet Jesus, they were right. These are some fuckin’ bangers.
May 12, 2021 @ 1:27 pm
Since this is labeled Volume 1, can we expect more certified twangers?
May 12, 2021 @ 1:36 pm
We can only hope! Bj has been known to play other bangers from this era.