I started my Music Monday series a few weeks ago as a result of a Wall Street Journal article that talked about the state of rock and roll and mentioned some lesser known bands as part of the story.
One of the bands mentioned was Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, a Birmingham, Alabama group that fuses classic-rock, punk, and soul. The Glory Fires are part of what the Journal called a renaissance of Southern rock.
Bains was an NYU literature student who decided to return home to Birmingham, Alabama, to play music, and as part of the process has embraced his cultural identity.
And embracing its cultural identity is one of the things I like about this band; Bains is not hesitant to speak his voice on issues of social justice.
The band’s most recent studio album (2017), Youth Detention, confronts white privilege and the normalization of sociopolitical power with sharp yet loving critique.
As an example, one of the songs from the album that NPR recently featured was “Underneath the Sheets“. According to Bains, “This song is a reflection on moments in my own growing-up where I witnessed whiteness and white-centered racialization drive representation and narrative, and thus identity, nationality, ethnicity, power, privilege, innocence, criminality, class, empire, etc. It’s also a paean to the deeper spirit of Birmingham, and the folks who fight through these massive systems of oppression — neighbor rubbing up against neighbor in a churning, constant hum of resistance — to drag us as a city into closer relationship with that spirit.”
Rolling Stone magazine first featured the Glory Fires in 2014, noting that their music would appeal to fans of Drive-By Truckers, Bruce Springsteen’s storytelling, Alabama Shakes. Seeing Bruce’s name was all it took for me to sit up and take notice.
Here’s how WXPN described the band: This is loud rock and roll that draws from Southern rock as well as punk. Plus, believe it or not, gospel. Bains’ new album (2014) Dereconstructed, their first for SubPop, is a musical treatise on what it means to be a Southerner in the new century, being true to your history and your aspirations.
And it’s not only through music that Bains shares his thoughts; he maintains an active presence on Twitter. Here are some recent tweets:
EJ Bradford Jr. was gunned down and allowed to die by police outside our hometown on Thanksgiving night. the Hoover PD was his judge, jury and executioner, although it became quickly apparent that he was innocent. #JusticeforEJ https://t.co/fDKIQg77Co
— lee bains iii (@TheGloryFires) November 26, 2018
Asking to be considered a refugee & applying for status isn’t a crime.
It wasn’t for Jewish families fleeing Germany.
It wasn’t for targeted families fleeing Rwanda.
It wasn’t for communities fleeing war-torn Syria.
And it isn’t for those fleeing violence in Central America. https://t.co/qhv7Rr1itn
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) November 25, 2018
Appalachia, ground zero for the opioid epidemic and famously lacking in spirituality, community, culture, and *checks notes* farm animals. https://t.co/TRzn3lNtFl
— Trillbilly Workers Party (@thetrillbillies) November 20, 2018
I can’t even write anything articulate about Cindy Hyde Smith vomiting our her racist bullshit because I know her, recognize her willful ignorance, how insidious it is, understand it’s perniciousness, it’s self-proclaimed infability. Vote this racist, close-minded woman OUT.
— Jesmyn Ward (@jesmimi) November 14, 2018
You can agree or disagree with his viewpoints (I happen to agree), but I think you have to admire his willingness to stand up for causes he believes in even if means possibly jeopardizing his success as a musician.
So I wish Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires continued success, both as musicians and activists.
And now, here’s some of their music:
*image from Sub/Pop