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Review: Lee Bains III + The Glory Fires, 'Dereconstructed'

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' new album, <em>Dereconstructed</em>, comes out May 27.
Wes Frazer
Courtesy of the artist
Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' new album, Dereconstructed, comes out May 27.

In north central Alabama, punk rockers often know as much about football as they do mosh pits. A guy with an arm-sleeve tattoo will open the door for a woman and call her "ma'am." Self-identifying as a blue dot in a red state doesn't preclude Sunday brunch with relatives whose own cars boast confederate-flag stickers. Such differences can arise anywhere, but they can feel more pressing in the Deep South, where history is sticky, like a 90-degree rainy day, and intimate, like Grandma's questionable advice.

Lee Bains III grew up in Birmingham, and he still loves that troubled, currently revitalizing city. "Paris and New York don't have honeysuckle vines like the ones on 32nd Street," he sings to a lover who'd like to go elsewhere in "The Weeds Downtown," as the Glory Fires' members choogle behind him as if they'd just dropped in from Muscle Shoals. But Bains' loyalty doesn't prevent him from calling out Birmingham's political scandals and anti-preservationist sprawl. In the scathing, White Stripes-like "We Dare Defend Our Rights," he calls for justice for the four little girls who died in the city's notorious Civil Rights-era church bombing, as well as the Latino kids who saw their parents harassed by police during the state's recent conflicts over immigration.

This is what Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires' second album, Dereconstructed, is all about: the fight to claim a home that sometimes drives you crazy. Sounding like Creedence in "The Kudzu and the Concrete" and a little bit like Tom Petty in "Mississippi Bottomland," Bains and his band — the versatile, testy guitarist Eric Wallace and the speedball rhythm section of brothers Blake and Adam Williamson — join a lineage of rock bands who, as another song says, "keep it on the dirt track." In the process, they meld rock's iconoclasm with working people's values: local fun, family ties, the honor of knowing where you fit.

This isn't a new space for Southern rock; in many ways, it is Southern rock, made by rebel sons who question that identity from the Allman Brothers through Skynyrd and on to Drive-By Truckers and Bains' former band, The Dexateens. Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires are intense enough to fully refresh the legacy they've joined. Produced for maximum fuzz and punch by garage-punk elder Tim Kerr, Dereconstructed addresses eternal questions with an earnestness and conviction reflective of this century's locavore, direct-action-oriented activists.

This is political music, but it's also here to party. The Glory Fires' members understand that rock's garage is big and full of hidden treasures: Boogie, funk and swamp blues mix with hardcore and classic British snot in their songs. Bains has a voice that could go full country, but he smokes it up with spit and vinegar. If there's one tradition Bains and the Glory Fires unquestioningly uphold, it's the Friday-night custom of burning down the house. They even once got thrown out of a club for being too loud. In Texas. "We're going to wash ourselves in fire and water," Bains announces in "Burnpiles and Swimming Holes." Dereconstructed is worth the plunge.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.