Lee Bains III adds a punk twist to good ol' Southern rock | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Lee Bains III adds a punk twist to good ol' Southern rock

"I think in the South, we have a tendency to try to be very polite."

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For a Bible-belt dweller, Bains also shows courage in privileging God over country, rather than equating the two. "And, when it would come time to say the Pledge in class, I would sit my ass down at that desk," he sings on one song, "And the only words I'd say were ‘under God.' I figured we were beyond the help of anyone else."

That song "Flags," begins with a reference to the tendency of Southerners to still raise the Confederate flag, but quickly turns to questioning the way flags of all types — American and otherwise — affect ideology. Now we're a long way from Skynyrd.

It's not all politics, though; Bains, while questioning certain aspects of Southern life and thought, takes time to write sweet anthems to his home. "The Weeds Downtown" is a perfect, ambivalent ode to Birmingham: "I know that Birmingham gets you down / And I guess that makes sense," Bains begins, "When so many old friends retired, / If not expired, by the time we were 23." He goes on to point out that, while things aren't perfect, there's also beauty that's unique to the region: "Paris and New York don't have honeysuckle vines like grow on 32nd Street."

Weeds and wildflowers are some of Bains' chief signifiers of the South, and play into his vision of a balance of urban and rural — several times throughout Dereconstructed, he notes how flowers and weeds grow amid urban development. At first glance it feels like Bains is showing off a degree in the natural sciences or something; it's a safe bet to say there won't be another rock record this year with as many references to specific types of flowers. "I don't have a background in botany, no," he says with a laugh. "My grandmother was into that kind of stuff, so maybe I got that from her."

But more than just a laundry list of wild plants, Bains is presenting a theory on mixing the best of different worlds: Sweet-smelling flowers growing free in the city also allude to traditional Southern values like independence and individual rights running through a broader social context that's more friendly to minorities, and less politically oppressive.

It's a complicated task that Bains has taken on, but he's met it with care, poetic vision and straight-up rock 'n' roll on Dereconstructed, one of the most thoughtful rock entries so far this year. Not everyone will agree with everything Lee Bains III has to say, but, especially in the context of Southern rock, that's what makes it all the more worth saying.