The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Glory Fires revisit a Southern past to inspire the present

On Aug. 12, the Birmingham-based trio is performing punk rock anthems from a new album on resistance at Comet Ping Pong

Singer and guitarist Lee Bains of the Glory Fires. (Joe Steinhardt)

Lee Bains and the Glory Fires are known for their Southern punk rock bangers. But in contrast with their usual righteous rage, their latest album also includes country-adjacent ballads and dad rock — if your dad is an anti-capitalist preacher on unionized resistance and anti-racism. Released in early August, “Old-Time Folks” is a more produced, sometimes slowed-down effort that offers a glimmer of hope for those looking at the state of American democracy and wondering how to right wrongs.

“Something that I’ve found myself running into is a sense of despair and feeling like things are getting worse and not better,” Bains says. “One of the things I did was learn about times in history where people did fight and win.”

Bains’s activism isn’t limited to his songwriting. The band, which includes brothers Adam Williamson (bass) and Blake Williamson (drums), has lent its talents to benefit performances for striking Alabama coal miners, Southern Black LGBTQ liberation organizations and Alabama food banks. And if Bains’s labored lyrics sound like poetry, you have a keen ear — a collection of poems he wrote about Southern cuisine and the people who sustain it was published in the New Yorker last year.

Confronting the complexities of his Alabama heritage, Bains uses his songwriting to explore the history of Southeastern resistance beyond the peaceful marches and boycotts taught in American public schools. You can hear it on the album’s opener and title track, which begins with a clip of an Angela Davis speech, followed by Bains: “Black rebels gripping microphones, fountain pens, AKs and cane knives / The barons hiding behind white hoods and redlines / Hissing lies to sunburnt rabble holding bullwhips and 9s / Drums in the streets and swamps growing loud.”

As a singer, Bains swerves from nasally shouts to pensive croons with ease, making it hard to believe that a song as relentless as “Caligula” (“Old Jeff David never hoed one row / Old Donald Trump never laid one brick”) and a dirge as soft as “Gentlemen” (“Are these really gentlemen who don’t seem to give a damn about this place?”) share a singer. The latter captures the meditative, almost spiritual side of the group — one yet to be seen in a decade-long career of spitfire lyrics and anthemic bops.

“I really wanted to do something different and make a more dynamic album, where each song kind of had its own identity or a voice that it was bringing into conversation with the other songs,” Bains explains. “That’s what I was hoping to bring to the top a little more, this diversity of sounds that make up music from my part of the world.”

The thesis of “Old-Time Folks” is a call for unity; in “Rednecks,” Bains sings, “If you go against your brother, boy, you go against yourself / Don’t go against yourself.” It’s a reminder that no revolution was ever won alone.

“My hope was to have a sense of grounding and place in community and time,” Bains says, “and how that belonging can transcend time.”

Aug. 12 at 10 p.m. at Comet Ping Pong, 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW. $15.