The Baptist Generals are coming, but we're not talking Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee. Rather, July marks the return of a psychedelic folk band from Denton, Texas, last heard from circa 2003.
Back then they were touring behind their debut release, No Silver/No Gold, a crash-bang-boom rush of emotionally charged songs designed to beat the doors down. An acoustic folk undercurrent served as the platform for seething electric guitars and off-kilter instrumentation. Critics loved it, but little more was heard from the Generals until this May's release of Jackleg Devotional to the Heart.
Ten years spawned many theories about why The Baptist Generals leader Chris Flemmons took so long on the band's follow-up, but it wasn't for a lack of desire to write new songs. Flemmons began recording songs in 2004 for what would eventually become Jackleg, but unsatisfied with the results, he abandoned the project while outside interests got in the way.
"There's a bit of a misconception, [in which] people think I worked on the album for 10 years," he says from his tour bus in South Carolina. "What happened is I shelved the record in 2005, and then I got involved in some development politics [in Denton.] That ended being about two-and-a-half years. Then I was involved in starting a music festival in Denton and that ended up taking another three-and-a-half years. Really, the album was just delayed 10 years."
Had the initial energy been right, Jackleg might have surfaced years ago. Flemmons says that half the songs were recorded in the original sessions, but at the time, "it just didn't feel right." The sessions came on the heels of touring No Silver/No Gold, so the new recordings boasted a pumped-up electric energy that didn't meet with the vibe Flemmons wanted.
"It was ill-conceived. It just didn't feel like it was working," he says. "We spent our budget for the album trying to find our way in the creative process and decided it wasn't happening. I was going to come back to it; a few months after recording it, we did an acoustic set, and I remembered that was the essence of the band.
"I wish I remembered that when I was in the studio the first time, but that's not the way it works."
When Flemmons returned to the studio in 2012, he was older, wiser, mellower. The emotional energy of his songs and songwriting still existed, but the need for volume and rage had subsided.
"I wrote that last record after my father passed away. The whole process was cathartic, because I watched him dwindle away with cancer, and I was dealing with a tremendous amount of grief. [No Silver/No Gold] is vitriolic at points; it's angry and kind of hopeless at points. I recorded it in my garage and I wanted a record that had more fidelity and was larger-sounding. As far as mellow, I guess that's what my state of mind is now."
Several songs from the early Jackleg sessions, including "Clitorpus Christi," "Broken Glass," and "Snow on the FM," were stripped down, laid bare, and refashioned into sprawling psych-folk work-ups, while "Dog That Bit You" and "Machine En Prolepsis" add electric elements for a more boisterous, far-out sound. One lyrical aspect that ties most of the songs together is Flemmons' obsession with blood and the heart.
"I've always written with a certain kind of bloodiness, whether physical and fleeting about being a human being," he says with a laugh. "At least that narrative line hasn't left what I'm writing about."