BJ Barham earns every bit of his Southern Springsteen cred on American Aquarium’s first studio album since 2015’s Wolves, and its first with an entirely revamped lineup. The change, as they say, does Barham good, who’s been gifted the perfect players to soundtrack his bewilderment and rage over the 2016 presidential election.
Rhythm section Joey Bybee and Ben Hussey are in lockstep on the resilient anthem “Tough Folks,” pedal-steel player Adam Kurtz gives “Crooked + Straight” its immersive wall-of-sound vibe, and guitarist Shane Boeker’s solo on “The World Is on Fire” is appropriately apocalyptic. But Barham’s lyrics are the centerpiece here, as he ponders a fractured country (“I saw firsthand what desperation makes good people do,” he sings in “Tough Folks”), mourns the mass exodus of his old bandmates (“When We Were Younger”) and celebrates the restorative power of hard labor (the marvelous “Work Conquers All”).
Aside from a few twangy licks, Things Change is an unabashed rock & roll record – a snapshot of a band and its reinvigorated leader.