Lee Bains III was a late addition to The Dexateens, joining the punk-spliced-to-Muscle Shoals outfit’s three-guitar attack in 2008, in time for the band’s final album Singlewide. The Dexateens, along with The Quadrajets (and later, The Immortal Lee County Killers), defined a certain kind of southern garage punk in the early ’00s, incorporating not just blues, but gospel, redneck rock (Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, Allmans) and soul into an incendiary onslaught. Lee Bains III and The Glory Fires picks up where the Dexateens left off, with ragged blues, rampant stomps and barroom guitar brawls. There is a Bomb in Gilead is as deeply felt as it is deeply fried, as indebted to Al Green as to Iggy and the Stooges.
Bains’s band is young-ish, raw and full of energy. His guitar player, Matt Wuertele, grew up under the influence of The Dexateens and The Quadrajets, bassist Justin Colburn played with Bains in Arkadelphia, and manic, sunglasses-at-night, singing drummer Blake Williamson has played with Dan Sartain and Taylor Hollingsworth. A few weeks ago, I saw Bains and his band play like they were on fire to a crowd of three other bands and maybe seven paying customers. They conceded exactly nothing to the fact that no one was there and played the best set of garage punk I’ve seen all year. A Bomb in Gilead, assisted by several garage vets (Tim Kerr, Lynn Bridges, Jim Diamond), captures that live sound and goes it one better, uncovering unexpected depth, soul and intelligence in a set of boot-stomping songs.
Live, their best songs are the rocking ones. Guitar-squalling, eerily harmonized “Centreville” and unstoppable “Magic City Stomp” are both tight, aggressive bursts of punk attitude, though the more complicated “Centreville” sounds better on the record, and harder-running “Magic City” comes across best in the club. The slower songs open up on Gilead, revealing strong, sure country blues chops and surprisingly sensitive lyrics. “Everything You Took” stings with Let It Bleed-style guitar twang and slouching, bruised and blown-out vocals, but it really makes its mark with the words. Bains sounds spent, exhausted, beaten as he makes one last ditch effort to hold onto the girl, offering “You can keep my Walker Percy…You can keep that tee-shirt my brother got the time he saw the Ramones,” and, I think, probably watching her walk away anyway. In “Centreville,” Bains slips in a line about being “overeducated and underemployed” into its ferocious attack, and judging by the words, he’s not kidding.
The other thing that emerges on CD is how naturally Bains and his crew mine Southern soul. The title song, which closes out the album, is the real sleeper, its gospel melody worn threadbare, its arrangements cut back to piano, drums, a little bass, and rough and righteous call and response. It’s a slow song, but backed with drama, as Bains squeals like James Brown, rasps like O.V. Wright and stretches out the climaxes like the Reverend Al Green. Not many punk bands could bear the scrutiny of such a long, tight close-up, but Lee Bains and his guys get better the more you look at them.
By Jennifer Kelly