Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires Recontextualize Southern Rock
Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires are scheduled to perform Monday, June 23 at Last Exit Live.
Dereconstructed, the sophomore album by Birmingham, Alabama's Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires , opens with a greasy guitar riff and a gospel-inflicted howl from Bains: "Yessir, tell me why, tell me why." The drums and bass kick in and it's pure boogie, undeniably "Southern rock."
But it's crucial to note that the album's 10 songs, recorded live in a friend's basement studio by punk legend Tim Kerr and pressed to wax by indie stalwart Sub Pop, defy typical Southern rock tropes. Instead of relaxing in Dixie cliche or historical revisionism, Bains tears apart and examines the South's past, reflecting on the oppression that took root in the place, and the resistance movement that disrupted it.
"We were raised on ancient truths, and ugly old lies," Bains sings on the title track, twang thick in his voice.
Bains sings about a South where profits were "put in the pockets of businessmen on Sunday," while "prophets" were beaten "black-and-blue" in the street. He sings about a South divided, turning rallying cries like "We Dare Defend Our Rights" on their head.
"[Any time] a culture establishes a sort of singular identity or narrative, or takes on one, it can be really destructive and very misleading," Bains says. Often, Southern rock bands focus only on the BBQ, beer, and Southern Comfort -- great subjects for rock 'n' roll songs, for sure -- but Bains spends the length of his album examining privilege, history, and class.
"That process of reconciliation has a deliberate energy that has to go into that. It's more pleasant and comfortable at times I think to just put it out of mind, but the act of reconciliation is rewarding," Bains says.
Bains' lyrics probe the idea of Southern identity, but sonically the band is pure boogie, employing thick riffs and grit. "Burnpiles, Swimming Holes" opens with a country blues strut; the band echoes the Stones' Southern exclusions on the R&B informed "Mississippi Bottomland." On "What's Good and Gone" the Glory Fires recall the Drive-By Truckers, and on "We Dare Defend Our Rights" they look to Southern rock torchbearers Lynyrd Skynrd. On the Stooges-meets-Gories "Dereconstructed," Bains howls like a preacher, tellingly singing, "We were whooped with the good book / Wound up shamed, sorry and worse. But I yearned to burn the wrath out of every chapter / And water the love in every verse / Water the love in every verse."
In addition to taking on the monolithic idea that is "the South," Bains spends the album exploring his relationship to Christianity, too, evoking both the Jesus who overturned the moneylender's tables in the temple and the one who preached love as the highest law. Bains grew up in the church, and struggled with the "dissonance" between what he read in the gospels and what he heard from the pulpit.
"Initially I just said, 'screw the whole thing,'" Bains explains. "But as I got older I found myself wanting what I had seen [growing up]; the more positive examples of believers having [a] sense of peace and graciousness and lovingness. The Jesus of the scriptures I read is loving and open, and he's not a literalist, not a legalist, he's not a fundamentalist."
With Deconstructed Bains explores one man's take on the complicated South, one man's grappling with culture, faith, and justice, and race in America. It's a conflicted album, born from a place where segregation festered as Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, musically eradicated it; it's an album about one man reconciling a home he loves with unpleasant truths. At a time when indie rock seems intent on saying nothing specific, Bains and his band are speaking direct.
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