Release Date: May 27, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, American Trad Rock, Alternative Country-Rock, Roots Rock
For a variety of reasons, Alabama—the land of cotton fields, George Wallace, and segregated sororities—isn't often associated with progressive activism. But the Yellowhammer State actually boasts a proud history of revolutionary change divergent from the Tea Party's modern-day knuckle-dragging. It was one of the epicenters of the agrarian populist crusade against monopolistic robber barons in the 1890s, for one.
"That old flag" features in the lyrics to the second album from these Alabamans, but not in the way you might expect from a southern rock band. Instead, in Flags, Bains sees it "twist and flap in the wind, the way it did over the smacking lips and cracking whips of white men selling black men". Dereconstructed, from its title down, is a ferociously anti-traditionalist affair, taking aim at "ancient truths and ugly old lies".
Depending on your age and musical proclivities, the term “Southern rock” likely evokes one of two sounds. There’s the old-school hard-living-hairy-guys model pioneered by the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band, and then there’s the latter-day hard-living-hairy-guys update that finds acts like the Drive-By Truckers and Lucero parsing the music of their forebears while broadening their sound and perspective. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires contains elements of both, while adding a sharp-edged savagery all their own.
Some musicians are fine with hitting a comfortable middle ground, and others have to push things to the edges, demanding all or nothing. Lee Bains III is clearly the kind of guy who wants to go hard or go home, and after the slightly too polite tone of his first album with the Glory Fires, 2012's There Is a Bomb in Gilead, he's chosen to put the pedal to the metal with his sophomore effort, 2014's Dereconstructed. Bains clearly wanted this album to rawk, and that's just what it does -- the guitars from Bains and Eric Wallace bark and wail at every turn, and the rhythm section of bassist Adam Williamson and drummer Blake Williamson (who play tight enough that it makes perfect sense that they're brothers) drives these tunes like a big block Hemi in fifth gear.
Lee Bains & the Glory Fires are from the South—Birmingham, Alabama, to be precise—and they want you to know it. If you forget that fact for one second while listening to thier sophomore album Dereconstructed, the next instant will remind you. The mood here is swampy, humid and sticky with sweat, heaps of muddy guitar riffs buzzing like insect swarms.
Like so many of us, Lee Bains III is a conflicted Southerner: heir to a questionable legacy of racism and regressive politics, yet also to a culture defined by nonviolent dissent and artistic innovation. To complicate things even further, the singer-songwriter hails from Birmingham, Alabama, which bears the brunt of so much disdain for people who associate the South solely with white racism. Yet, the city birthed a civil rights movement that prized love, equality, and dignity as the foundation for a moral society.
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires — Dereconstructed (Sub Pop)Dereconstructed is, apparently, the progressive Christian Southern garage-punk album we didn’t know we were waiting for. Took me by surprise, I’ll say that. “Before long, strangers crossed oceans, and double-crossed every damn body,” Bains sings wearily in “What’s Good and Gone,” and that serves as a snapshot of the politics on display here: delivered casually, almost offhand, but with a concentrated Howard Zinn-esque outrage.
From Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Black Crowes to the Drive-By Truckers, Southern rockers have been acutely self-conscious about where they come from, writing songs steeped in history, local color, memories, everyday life, expectations and paradoxes. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, a four-man band from Alabama, proudly join the Southern-rock tradition of wild-eyed music hitched to serious deliberation. “Dereconstructed,” the band’s second album, ponders Southern identity in a welter of cranked-up guitars, bristling drums and rasping, hollering vocals.
Lee Bains’s sophomore record makes evident that he is a man with a lot on his mind. In particular, the past and present state of the South and Southernness (including his own) is a preoccupation throughout, from the oppositional stance articulated by title song “Dereconstructed” (“We gave them songs about taking your own damn stand/In spite of those who’d define and control you”) to a scathing riff on the Alabama state motto, “We Dare Defend Our Rights,” to a warts-and-all valentine to his hometown of Birmingham, “The Weeds Downtown. ” It also makes evident that Bains likes to rock.
The Southern music scene in the United States has largely been dominated by modern country for the last couple of decades, so when an actual rock band emerges from the South it’s quite refreshing. It’s even refreshing despite the band clearly wanting to the torchbearers for that one band from the ‘70s. You know the one.? Honestly, I haven’t heard anyone try this hard to be Lynyrd Skynyrd in a long time.