BJ Barham, David Ramirez | Lincoln Theatre | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
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BJ Barham, David Ramirez 

When: Sat., Aug. 20, 8 p.m. 2016
Price: $15-$25



A smokestack, a .38 revolver, a burnt pecan pie, a hunter green Plymouth: all relics of Southern life and central iconography for the protagonists on Rockingham, the debut solo album from singer-songwriter BJ Barham. The eight-song record draws on Barham's childhood in Reidsville, North Carolina, using character sketches of hometown folks to capture the hopes, dreams, realities, and disappointments of small-town America. Rockingham is rooted in the South, but Barham wrote it while touring Europe with American Aquarium, the alt-country band he's fronted for over a decade. The group was less than two hours away from Paris when terrorists attacked a packed concert hall in November. The rush of voice mails, texts, and emails from concerned friends and family members struck a chord in Barham. Within days, he'd written the skeleton for Rockingham. An ode to the people and places that have influenced his life, the album possesses an innate contradiction: though it's his first attempt at non-autobiographical writing, the songs are his most personal. American Aquarium's 2015 breakthrough, Wolves, was wrought with honesty and openness. But Barham pushes himself even further on Rockingham as he depicts the people, town, and moments that helped shape him.

Each of Rockingham's tracks presents a fictional narrative of a different person, written from his or her viewpoint, all set in Barham's hometown of Reidsville. In "O'Lover," Barham voices a farmer whose soil won't cooperate. "The last few years we bled her dry/There used to be cotton and tobacco/Now nothing grows, no matter what we try," he sings between threads of banjo and harmonica. Driven by desperation, Barham's farmer takes a revolver and commits a robbery, justifying his action by declaring that he did it to survive. The hard-luck tales keep coming—on "Reidsville," a man sells the Plymouth he built by hand in order to buy his girl a wedding ring and provide for their future, and on "American Tobacco Company," Barham describes the slow suffocation of blue-collar labor. Rockingham reaches its pinnacle with "Madeline," where Barham writes, "I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place/But I have seen the darkest side of people."

Brimming with local pride, Rockingham is masterfully crafted, with sharp detail that plops the listener right into Barham's scenes. If nurture is as critical to human understanding as nature is, then Rockingham inscribes Barham's tabula rasa, pulling back the curtain for the most intimate glimpse into the songwriter's background yet. —Desiré Moses

8 p.m., $15–$25,

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