American Aquarium Drops Surprise Album of 90’s Country Hits

photo: Kyle Coroneos

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.

7.5/10

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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)

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