If you're plugged into the local music scene, you know that Mercury Lounge is always on the cutting edge, bringing in some of the best Americana, country, and rock acts that have been tearing up the road. Chances are, if there's a hot new country-tinged band blowing up at Cain's Ballroom, they've already paid their dues on the road and have likely already introduced themselves to Tulsa with a stop at Mercury Lounge while climbing the ladder to the top.
Of course, bar manager and the man who books the bands, Reggie Dobson, keeps me abreast of what he's got coming to Mercury, but he's never demanding about it. When I do get a phone call that says, "You've got to see/hear this band," then I know it's going to be something special.
This Thursday night, The Merc has one of those special bands coming to town that warranted a special call. Launched out of Raleigh, N.C., American Aquarium has made its name as a band of road warriors, constantly touring and criss-crossing the U.S. and Europe for the past six years.
Over that period, the band has rocked hard and lived hard, soaking up the rock & roll dream. With its sixth album, Burn. Flicker. Die., however, American Aquarium comes to term with terms with the repercussions of living life on the road. This is a visceral album that screams of smoky bars, whiskey, loose women, and miles of highway. This is the album that finally almost captures the band's live magic and also happens to be its finest moment in the studio to date.
Perhaps that's because the band spent two years writing the songs that make up the album -- and since the band is rarely home, the songs reflect a long, hard life on the road. Lead singer BJ Barham has called this disc the band's "consequence record," as the band comes to terms with the result of its life on the road.
Once the band was ready to record, they headed to Muscle Shoals, Ala. to commit their songs to tape with Jason Isbell (formerly of Drive By Truckers) at the helm. Eight days of recording allowed the band both to work out its vision and to keep a live edge to the recordings, adding to the strength and emotion of the record.
While Dobson referred me to the band saying "Think Corb Lund, but more rock," what truly comes through is a confluence of classic rock and country icons. On the country side, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard are the obvious cornerstones. There's a whole lot more rock swagger than country twang here, though, and you can't miss the Sticky Fingers-era Stones imprints that are all over this disc. As the album unfolds, though, there are layers of Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, and Gov't Mule in the mix as well as Steve Earle and Drive by Truckers. In fact, the band's lyrics of hard living and Deep South peril parallel the Truckers in many respects.
Although the album retains a somber tone, the band manages to lay low and still put out its most intense and poignant album to date. As dramatic as the album is, however, it only scratches the surface of the band's live intensity.
These boys may have been burned by life on the road and too many smoky bars, but they still rock with a ferocity that can't be denied. American Aquarium made its Tulsa debut with a stop at Mercury Lounge this past fall and so impressed Dobson that he had to bring them back. Although a weekend would have been preferable, the band's loyal following and heavy touring schedule brings them through town on a Thursday night, giving you good reason to kick off your weekend early.
Where there's smoke, there's fire, and American Aquarium has been smoldering for years. With Burn.Flicker.Die., the band proves it's on the verge of something bigger. You can catch them this Thursday night, Jan. 24 at Tulsa's best little taste-making honky tonk, Mercury Lounge. Catch them now, because this is a band that should blow up on the festival scene in short order and be headlining Cain's Ballroom and larger venues before the year is over. Cover is only $5, making it a show you don't want to miss. And once again, Dobson and Mercury Lounge will prove to be the ones showing Tulsa who should be the next band to blow up and overtake the Ballroom.
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