Lee Bains has gone folky on his latest release, Old-Time Folks, but he ain’t no easygoing troubadour. His lyrics resonate with folk-flavored protest themes, but his delivery system is nowhere near the stool-perching acoustic pundits of yore.
The Alabama native’s music has been labeled Southern punk — an amalgamation of Southern rock and punk. He’s an in-your-face chronicler of current events, throwing the headlines in the dirt at your feet while he tells it like it is from personal experience. His folky, punky, hard-core rockin’ testimony focuses on what the situation actually is, not what it looks like to outsiders.
“We’re directing this song at Donald Trump and at Ted Cruz, and at Steve Bannon, and before them Karl Rove and Lee Atwater and Lester Maddox and George Wallace and people who have for a very long time riled up the worst in people like us,” Bains says in his spoken-word intro to “Good Old Boy.”
His manifesto goes on for nearly a minute and a half, with Bains defining his terms of endearment for good ol’ boys. “What I consider to be a good ol’ boy is somebody who lives a simple life, who doesn’t like being told what to do, who likes to take care of their own, who likes to do the right thing, work hard, and Donald Trump has done none of those things. These other folks have done none of these things — they love to reap the rewards of other people’s labor. They ain’t no fuckin’ good ol’ boys,” he snarls, ripping into the tune with hardcore punk fervor.
He doesn’t let up throughout Old -Time Folks, lambasting a litany of social ills with punk furor, sounding like a fierier version of John Mellencamp singing Springsteen’s lyrics inspired by Woody Guthrie.
“(In Remembrance of the) 40-Hour Week” honors the workers bloodied as they fought for a living wage, remembering those who “scrapped with the Big Mules, and the gun thugs, and the scabs, for their honor and their share of pay.”
Bains fires up his congregation like a revival preacher trying to lasso a corral of hell-bent sinners, whipping up his listeners into a righteous lather.
“God’s A-Workin, Man” chronicles his rocky Alabama roots, “where the bank and the landlords stole my great-granddaddy’s days, where the Lord taught him to read scripture by the coal-oil light.” Hung on a soulful Southern rock framework, Bains describes a childhood so bleak that he drank deep of his failure: “Heard my mama curse the day I was born.” But he prevails with a little help from a blue-collar savior: “Every morning I hit my knees, and thank God my God’s a-working, man. I thank God that He came down here to get to working, man.”
Old-Time Folks is a stark, no holds-barred look at so-called civilized society from a bloody but unbowed survivor.
Lee Bains and The Glory Fires’ Old-Time Folks is out Aug. 5 on Don Giovanni Records. Learn more about Bains’ celebration of people trying to uplift the modern South in an interview in our Summer 2022 “Movers & Shakers” journal, available in print or digitally.