Back Row Baptists find beauty in the sinister 

Gritty faith from Birmingham

While they may not thump their Bibles and wag their fingers at sinners and heathens too often, Birmingham rock band the Back Row Baptists frequently imbibe in the spirits, if only to get a bit tipsy while twangin' it up on stage.

Led by guitarist and main singer/songwriter Chris Porter, the group recently released a solid debut collection of slightly sinister, determinedly Southern tunes titled Broken Hearts & Bad Decisions (Vintage Earth).

Some of the songs on the new disc seem genuinely menacing and dark, while others carry a wry sense of sarcasm and wittiness.

"We recorded the record, and then we named it," says Porter. "We didn't have a title in mind until we tracked almost 20 songs and listened back to them. I think it's an accurate title and it remains a good theme for the band."

Born out of the rock clubs and watering holes of Birmingham, their punky mix of gospel-tinged country, blues, and old-time rock 'n' roll reflects some of the rowdy hick vibes of their home state.

"Birmingham is a blue-collar city," says Porter. "A lot of them work hard, but they don't get to tour as much as other bands. We do have a fairly developed music scene, but its blessing is its curse."

In the band's recent press release, Porter defined their sound as "outlaw gospel," which fits the religion-peppered country stylings of the edgy music, although it neglects the rawer guitar-rock elements of the most assertive tracks.

"There's some cynicism and Southern grit in there, for sure," says Porter. "We're working on another record right now, and it'll probably be even grittier and more aggressive. No matter how things sound, we're really reaching for a high level of honesty on it. It's about putting out a product that is real to people — one that is accessible and understandable. If you try to fake your art, it's like shooting yourself in your foot."

Porter formed the band just a couple of years ago with Heath Green on keyboards and Sarah Green on percussion. Guitarist Adam Guthrie joined in soon thereafter, hauling a few ukuleles and exotic stringd instruments along for boozy experimental purposes. Bassist and banjo player Jay Taylor solidified the lineup in 2009.

"When we started out, we had a modular lineup," says Porter. "The meat-and-potatoes of the band is me with Sarah playing kick drum and washboard, Jay playing upright bass, and Heath blowing harmonica and piano. We can do a super-stripped-down, three-piece punk rock show for the rock clubs or the full lineup with extra fiddle and other instruments."

This week, the core trio of Porter, Green, and Taylor will handle the set at the Mill.

"You may see a fiddler or banjo player on stage, if we can find one to pull up on stage," says Porter. "Our heart is in playing for bar crowds in bars — no matter what the lineup is. The show this week should be pretty dirty, raw, and aggressive. We wanna get people dancin' and we want to get people drinkin' liquor."

Lord have mercy on their drunk souls.



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