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Finally Friday At Home With Seth Walker and B.J. Barham

Seth Walker by Joshua Black Wilkins
Joshua Black Wilkins
Seth Walker

Sometimes Finally Friday features up-and-comers, local artists on the make, etc., but sometimes - times like this week - our alliterative end-of-week lunchtime showcase hits you with certified star power. Our guests are seasoned travelers, bona fide masters and songwriters with rare gifts for setting their words to powerful music - Seth Walker and B.J. Barham, founder and leader of North Carolina country rock stalwarts American Aquarium.

I’ve been kicking back lately with Seth Walker’s very new album I Hope I Know, although the material and mood here is a bit more uneasy and complex than some of his past work. Besides the pandemic’s forced stillness, he was contemplating the breakup of a significant relationship and moving from Nashville to Asheville. That’s a pretty good addition to Seth’s collection of music cities, having lived in Austin and New Orleans as well. And as I’ve oft said, his seductive, effortless music sounds like a little bit of all those places. His voice is velvet, his guitar impeccable and his touch with the blues quite rare.

I Hope I Know is Walker’s eleventh album and his third produced with Wood Brothers drummer and keyboard player, the gifted Jano Rix. Besides contemplative, melancholy songs like the opening truth-teller “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be,” Walker delivers an incredibly tender, relatable “Tennessee Blues” by the mysterious master Bobby Charles. Also covered here is Bob Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain,” a song that’s been making us feel better by feeling sadder for decades.

B.J. Barham seems to be shifting from the political to the personal with the new American Aquarium album that’s coming on June 10. 2020’s Lamentations investigated the disinvestment and despair he’s witnessed in the tobacco towns that raised him in central North Carolina. We had an incredible talk about America’s divisions in an episode of The String around then. Now they’re bringing the tricky to say Chicamacomico, which is the name of an old Coast Guard station on the Carolina coast, as well as the place where Barham wrote this batch of new songs amid the loss of his mother and grandmother. They comprise, says the bio, “a moving reflection on how we pick up the pieces after losing someone dear to us, intricately penned from a range of perspectives...a spouse, a parent, a best friend, a child, a grandchild. Songwriter B.J. Barham paints arresting and intimate portraits of the grieving process: the empty feeling around those first holidays, the missed phone calls you can't help but regret and the ongoing conversation with them in your head.”

Whether contemplative or revolutionary, American Aquarium has proven its mettle as one of the finest and most thought-provoking alt-country bands of the last two decades. They’ll affirm that once again with a show at the Ryman Auditorium on June 17. But we get B.J. first!

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org