Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires - There is a Bomb in Gilead (Alive Records)

Lee Bains III is the prodigal son, raised on the Good Book Jesus, corrupted by punk-rock and working out his own adult reconciliations between the two. It’s the blessing and curse of being Southern. From Jerry Lee Lewis to Tyler Keith (Preacher’s Kids), and all the way back to Robert Johnson, artists, black and white alike, have been torn between Saturday night and Sunday morning; ever since moonshine and lusty women first presented a challenge to the Christian life. Crap - that was probably in the fifth Century; in southern … France, or somewhere.  Hell, I’d have to get out my History books. Like I say, it’s nothing’ new. Bains and his Alabama boys, the Glory Fires, aren’t reinventing the wheel, just grinding the sucker. And it yields a great ride.

Even if there’s nothing new under the sun, each generation and every new artist has the opportunity to put its and his or her own spin on the eternal conflicts. On There is a Bomb in Gilead, the Glory Fires debut, Bains brings the sensibilities of a literary education to his talks with Jesus and his hallelujahs to Joey Ramone. I don’t say this just because he makes literary references, like the one to Walker Percy (“go ahead take my Walker Percy, go ahead and take the t-shirt by brother got when he saw the Ramones”), but because his melancholy and moral musings are offspring of Faulkner and O’Connor’s world. “Everything You Took,” the ditty with the Percy/Ramones lyric, establishes the artist’s lifestyle essentials: rock ‘n’ roll t-shirts and books. And essential they may as well be since he’s losing his gal. He’s clearly hanging on to a thread, clinging to “every little hope that you give me.” But the lady sounds to me like she’s moved on.

The singer’s wrestling with virtue resounds in “Ain’t No Stranger,” rhyming contrition and perdition, by God – and reminding the almighty that he may be prodigal, but he’ s “no stranger.” Bains and lead guitarist Matt Wurtele slash through the Willie Mitchell groove with guitars that are more Keith Richards and Ron Asheton than anything Memphis or Muscle Shoals. “Centreville” sustains the rocking pace. It’s Skynyrd after the Pistols (and Some Girls), Bains spitting out lyrics about guys who are “over educated and under-employed.” Perfect, it captures the new Birmingham, or hell – Boston, as the United States becomes the new Spain. Imagine Tony Joe White amped up and all pissed off. That’s what Bains sounds like on “Centreville.”