Album Review – American Aquarium’s Wolves is a Great Blend of Country & Rock

AAWolves

There’s been one album I’ve heard a lot of hype about in country music circles here in the beginning of 2015 and that’s American Aquarium’s Wolves. Rightly so too. There isn’t a band in country music that tours more and works harder than this group. They’ve put out numerous solid records and have earned the respect of many, but they almost stopped after their last album Burn. Flicker. Die. That album was about how they didn’t make it, but ironically as lead singer BJ Barham has said it was the album that helped them make it and capture people’s attentions. American Aquarium is made up of Barham, Bill Corbin (bass), Ryan Johnson (guitar), Kevin McClain (drums), Whit Wright (pedal steel guitar) and Colin DiMeo (guitar). You won’t find a more tight-knit group of musicians. So with their last album convincing them to stick to music, they set out to make their new album Wolves, which is already receiving a lot of praise. Does it live up to its lofty expectations?

The album starts off with “Family Problems,” a song about a man who lives life too hard and has many problems. As the man says in the song, his mom constantly reminds him that he’s just like his uncle who died by age 45. He knows this and asks them to help him fix what they can. This is a gritty song that deals with a gritty problem. The instrumentation is great, perfectly blending the horn and guitars together. There’s also a touch of psychedelic influences in the song. The next song, “Southern Sadness,” deals with homesickness. The man in the song vows to leave his hometown for good and after he finally does, he realizes that he misses it. The guitar play in this song is pretty damn solid.

This is followed by the reflective “Man I’m Supposed to Be,” a soft, statement song. Lead vocalist BJ Barham certainly relates to the song, just being just a singer always on the road doing what he loves, as well as the rest of the band of course. As he sings, “Never first, never last just somewhere in-between, that’s the man I’m supposed to be.” This is one of the highlights of Wolves for sure. “Wichita Falls” is a song about a man lamenting the end of a relationship with a woman and now he’s washing his sorrows away in Wichita Falls. This is probably one of the truest examples you can find of southern fried country rock and roll.

Reunion is the concept of “Old North State.” After being out on the road for a long time a man is finally going home to see his woman who has kept his bed warm. It’s a solid song with some good instrumentation. “Ramblin’ Ways” is a love song filled with heavy guitar licks. These guitar licks really give the song an edge and kick, leaving it in your head for days. I also like the fact that this isn’t a straight ahead love song, as the man sings about how the woman he’s been with for 27 years is the only one who brightens his days. It’s a sweet and sentimental song, but it’s dirty and gritty too.

Speaking of guitar licks you’ll get stuck in your head, “Losing Side of Twenty-Five” has one of the most satisfying sounding guitar licks I’ve heard in a song for a while. The song itself is just as good too. It’s about a man who pursues a career of being a musician, much to the chagrin of his parents and the rest of the world. He did it his way and he’s proud of it though. When it comes down to it, this song is about chasing your dream. Not only the best song on the album, but an early contender for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year.

The next song, “End Over End,” is one of the most somber songs on the album. The man deals with the heartbreak of losing a woman and pleads for her to let him change into what she wants. Once again I have to applaud the guitar play. The album’s title track, “Wolves,” is about a man dealing with the evils of the world. He calls these evils, “wolves,” and throughout the song he reiterates how much he wants these wolves’ claws out of him, which are referred to as “beautiful women and amphetamines.” I wish this song went a little longer because it could have told an even better story.

Wolves ends with “Who Needs a Song,” which is a love song where the man expresses his love for his woman. He dismisses life on the road with his band and realizes he’s “never going to be on the cover of Rolling Stones.” Once again it’s another song where the band sings what they know and that is being out on the radio making music and being away from their loved ones. In an album filled with these songs, it’s an appropriate way to end it.

While I always say an artist or band should stick to what they know, I got a little tired of hearing the same kind of song. It felt like there were too many songs about being on the road and going home. I know this band knows this more than any other band probably, but it would have been nice to hear a little more variety in terms of themes. Don’t get me wrong these songs are pretty damn good, but as a whole together they lose a little luster due to theme saturation. It was really what held this album back from being great in my mind. Nevertheless this album was still very good. I would definitely recommend checking out Wolves. It’s a great example of alt-country blended with southern rock to produce one hell of a sound.

Grade: 8/10

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