When: Thu., July 27, 9 p.m. 2017
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires' 2014 album, Dereconstructed, is either the most Southern punk rock album or the most punk Southern rock album you're likely to find. It was loud and proud, but at the same time completely uncompromising in its deconstruction of the legacy of slavery and the Southern strain of racism—particularly the ways they still infect the minds of the South's white people.
Youth Detention, the band's new album, carries a similar spirit, yet is somehow wholly different in this regard. Speed and anger aren't the album's centerpieces, as they were on Dereconstructed. But the complex, personal memories drawn from frontman Lee Bains's adolescence make the politics more personal, and therefore more urgent, this time around.
"The way I visualized Dereconstructed was a wrecking ball," Bains says. "This one [Youth Detention], I didn't have that image in my mind. I felt like I was gonna keep the sledgehammer handy, but that I was gonna need to do some more nuanced demolition and then construction."
Take the back-to-back tracks "Crooked Letters" and "I Can Change!" The former starts out with the cadence of schoolchildren singing the classic spelling rhyme of Mississippi, where each "s" is replaced by the words "crooked letter." It then slides seamlessly into a soulful Southern rock tune of the first order. The lyrics, like almost all on the album, relate a series of moving personal snapshots from Bains's youth in Birmingham, Alabama. One vignette paints the memory of a man with a "sun-browned face" and "black curls of hair" on the street being hounded by children who demand to know if he's white or black. Bains sings, "A green-neon crucifix crowns the steeple where, Sundays/His folks recite prayers in the Lord's dead tongue." These kids didn't know what to make of someone from the Middle East, even if he followed the straight and narrow way of the cross. Crooked letters, indeed.
"I Can Change!" replaces the field-recorded intro of the previous track with a different kind of recording: a protest. Thirty seconds of civil rights chants ("We have nothing to lose but our chains") eventually give way to a hard and fast song worthy of his last album. It culminates in a short story about a time when a young Bains derided construction workers (sporting Confederate flags, of course) to his sibling. "I muttered something to you about white trash,/In the front seat, Granddaddy's easy drawl sharpened into nails/He clapped his cracked red hand onto my doughy leg,/He said, 'Son, you aren't any better than anybody else.'"
It's some of the most sympathetic, and still some of the angriest, Southern songwriting around. Like the best punk rockers, Lee Bains is angry because he cares. And like the best Southern rockers, he cares about all the South's children. —Jonathan Pattishall