In ‘Old Time Folks,’ Bains links together different worlds

Punk-rockers Lee Bains and The Glory Fires call up the spirits of all who have fought for liberation, past and present.
Arts & Culture

Old Time Folks

Lee Bains and The Glory Fires (Don Giovanni Records, 2022)

The day this fourth album from our greatest left-wing Southern punk-rock band dropped, my son sent me a text calling it “the London Calling of the South.” That’s a little hyperbolic, but like The Clash’s summa, this album draws from a broad-ranging musical palette with a breadth of social vision that is simply astonishing.

The titular old-timers are not the agrarian rustics of nostalgic lore. They are our forebears who fought back. Bains calls up the spirits not just of the now almost-respectable mid-century civil rights warriors but also of the Great Depression-era sharecroppers who “raised hammer and hoe to the landlords” and the post-Reconstruction “sons of slaves and serfs” who joined the biracial populist revolt. He sees the “old time folks” of the 21st-century South as those fighting to get a union at an Amazon warehouse, to keep one at the Warrior Met coal mine, or to stop racist violence in the summer of 2020’s “Battle of Atlanta.”

Lee Bains could make this record because he straddles the contradictions of present-day America in a way that few still do. Alabama born-and-bred, he’s a New York University-educated poet who works day jobs in construction. He’s an unabashed socialist and a practicing Christian who still attends an Atlanta Baptist church. He’s a product of the faster, louder punk-rock ethos who, on this album, slows the tempos and sweetens the pot with churchy organ and pedal-steel guitar.

There’s even some gospel moan in some of Bains’ vocals here. You can hear a hymn to the mystical body of Christ in the chorus of “Rednecks”: “When you go against your brother,” he sings, “you go against yourself.” And the faith is right out front in “God’s A-Working, Man,” in which Bains calls us to follow a savior who “could frame out a house,” “clean a mess of fish,” and “told the rich man to go and cut a switch.”


Can I get an “amen”?

This article also appears in the March 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 3, page 38). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Crop of Old Time Folks cover art, by Lee Bains and the Glory Fires

About the author

Danny Duncan Collum

Danny Duncan Collum teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort and is the author of four books, including the novel White Boy (Apprentice House 2011).

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