If you want to understand everything Lee Bains III + the Glory Fires’ new album Old-Time Folks has to offer, you’d better grab yourself a dictionary and encyclopedia. It’s as if Bains thought to himself, “Y’all wanna keep calling us Southern rock? Okay. Here’s a ‘Southern rock’ album.” Not in some hateful way, either. Just a way that wanted to give some deep reflection on what all that means. And since we’ve all used “Southern rock” as a label, he’s going to make you do your homework.
He sure did his.
It’s hard to summarize, but a few words work well as common threads for Old-Time Folks: unity, spirituality, disruption, and anti-capitalism. Ask Bains, and he’ll answer via his music that it’s a culture built on capital that’s rotted all the good the South — and beyond — may have offered: “[B]ankers and Big Mules” are the problem, he raps in the opener “Old-Time Folks (Invocation),” and then later claims in the same song, “This ain’t content.”
You see, folks have more in common than we do differences; Bains writes in “Lizard People”: “Everybody’s good/Everybody’s evil/But why does it pay/To play like Lizard People?” It doesn’t, and that’s the problem.
The solutions are in part in invocations to who’ve come along, done it right, and done it before they were snuffed out — “the Magic City outlaws,” as he calls them. Or, you know, find the answer in treating people like they’re people, as he sings in “Rednecks”: that fella next to you at work ain’t “a thug/He’s your brother/You ain’t no better than him.” Not seeing the connection between you and everyone else in the working — particularly the working class — gets you “go[ing] against yourself.” Sweetdog would be proud.
And yeah, there’s the music, which is flawless. It’s a Lee Bains III + the Glory Fires’ album, so it may shock listeners to find out that there are acoustic guitars, pianos, lap steel guitars, a damn guiro, orchestras, and — just like the themes — piles and piles of complexities that I can’t begin to unpack here.
A gentle foot stomp and acoustic guitar swirls into a B-bender of a guitar lick in “Rednecks.” “Caligula” takes aim at the billionaire bastards with a bit of anthemic punk. A mournful piano recounts losing friends — literally and figuratively — in the bullshit of the Internet age in the tender “Old Friends.” There are even blatant nods at the guitar sounds of Oasis in “The Battle of Atlanta.” I never would’ve thought it.
One of the best moments of the album occurs in “(In Remembrance of the) 40-Hour Week.” It’s here that Bains strikes some of his best writing to date behind one of Adam Williamson’s great bass lines: “Seems like lately we get up/To go work/Get ready for work/We head to work/And we work/Till we get off work/And we take it from the house from work/Hit the kitchen and we get to work/We talk about work/We worry about work/We dream about it.” And every mention of “work” is enunciated with the help of a Williamson brother, the rhythm section for the recordings. That enunciation, that backing, is your neighbor. It’s your fellow worker.
There hasn’t been an album with a better idea of its audience than Old-Time Folks.
It may demand more of you than any other album from 2022, but that’s one of the best aspects about Old-Time Folks. Return to that well of unity. Come back to that prayer of disobedience.
Old-Time Folks is a masterpiece that all the old-time folks would be proud of.