Lee County’s Finest
Lee County’s Finest, the new album from Alabama’s BB Palmer, expands on the themes explored in 2016’s debut EP, Belle Fontaine, named after the area on the west coast of Mobile bay, where singer/song writer Bernard Breitung grew up. Breitung, who goes by BB Palmer, writes songs that tackle big topics, subjects that main stream country artists tend to shy away from, such as mortality, addiction and environmental catastrophe. You could call it cosmic country, but I’m not sure that goes far enough. Rather pretentiously, I have chosen to describe it as existential honky tonk.
The music is comprised of classic honky tonk elements, with twanged, strummed and plucked guitars, weeping steel and a sweet fiddle scratch behind Palmer’s distinctive, idiosyncratic voice. Lee County’s Finest is somewhat of a trip, a listening experience from start to finish, with samples and ambiances linking the tracks in a continual sonic flow. When I first contacted BB, asking to hear the new album, he was most definite that this was how the album should be considered, as a cohesive whole, rather than as a collection of individual songs.
On repeated listens, the songs unfurl as the lyrics sink into your consciousness, suggesting questions as much as revealing answers. The depths of these songs seem to plunge further away as you become more familiar with them, until you are staring into the abyss of pain and struggle that is the human condition, wrestling with the facts of reincarnation, resurrection and Armageddon. As I said, this is existential honky tonk. I decided the best way to get a handle on where Palmer was coming from with this album was to ask the man himself.
Listening to this album, I get the feeling that there is a narrator delivering these songs, that there may be a theme to the album. What are your thoughts about the album? How do you want it to be understood? Or is it just a collection of tunes?
Right. From the narrator’s perspective, there is a story line, The band set out to do this record to flow like one entire piece, broken into eleven sections. There are many themes (lyrically and sonically). Without getting too deep, the three broad themes are; The battle or balance between Good and Evil, Struggle versus Triumph, and Conscious Mortality versus Eternal Life, all classic themes that have been done many times before throughout history, but done in a way that’s interpreted through the scope of life and culture in Alabama, the south in general, and in a broader sense, the US and the world. There’s no particular way we would like it to be understood, we leave that up to the listener.
You released a great EP a couple of years ago. Was that your first release, or are there others I have missed?
Yes sir. That was the band’s first release – the new album will be the first music to be released in a little over three years.
Listening again to your previous EP, and to this album, there are certain themes that are prevalent. There is a sense of the cosmic, something ethereal, talk of reincarnation, resurrection, drug use, addiction, deformed fish, Armageddon, death and the minimum wage. Your lyrics are existential, if I can use that word. Where do you feel your music fits in today’s country music scene and who do you regard as your contemporaries?
That’s a good question, I’m not sure where it fits personally. I’m not sure if it even fits at all in today’s country music landscape, but people tell us it falls somewhere between the genres of “Alt. Country” and “Psychedelic” (whatever that means). As far as contemporaries go, personally, there’s not much I compare or relate to nowadays (maybe I have yet to hear them).
Country music is a term that covers a very broad spectrum, whether you like that breadth or not. Is it important to you to be entertaining and challenging at the same time?
What’s most important to us, is to make the music that we want to make and do it blissfully. If being entertaining comes along with that as a bi-product, then so be it. It’s not something we focus on when constructing an album or composing the songs. As far as challenging goes, from a personal standpoint, I think it’s important to challenge and question everything, so I’m sure some of that ideology subconsciously or consciously leaks through
Who is playing on the new album? Is this your core band, the same players who played on the EP?
A bit of both. We tour primarily as a four piece. We cut the EP straight to tape at a place called The Bomb Shelter in Nashville, so nearly all of it (minus vocals on a couple tracks) was done in the live room straight to 2 inch tape.
Here’s who performed what On the EP:
Josh McKenzie – Telecaster Lead Guitar
Matt Alemany – Rhythm Electric, Lead, and B3 Organ
Tyler Wallace – Drums, Vocals
Jordan Walker – Bass Guitar
Myself – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
And here’s who played what on the LCF album:
Josh McKenzie – Telecaster Lead Guitar
Matt Alemany – Fuzz/Ambience Guitar, Acoustic Lead, and Rhythm Electric
Tyler Wallace – Drums, Vocals
Dylan Norgard – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Myself – Vocals, Acoustic Rhythm & AC Lead, Sitar Guitar
Jimbo Leach – Fiddle
Dan Campbell – Fiddle
Blake Reams – Pedal Steel / Lap Steel
How long have you been playing together, how long as BB Palmer? Anything else I should know about?
I’ve been playing music in bands since I was 15/16 years old, same with the other fellas. Tyler Wallace (drummer) and I started BB Palmer back around 2013-2014. It was initially a five piece (acoustic, bass, drums, lap steel, and fiddle) but around end of 2014, the couple who played fiddle and pedal steel (Lindsey and Ross Wall) moved to NC and we picked up Josh McKenzie on Telecaster and shortly after, Dylan Norgard on Bass, that’s when we started the BB Palmer that you know today.
To these ears, this is some of the best country music I have heard in a very long time. How have you been received at home? Are you getting good reviews, radio and press? Is it difficult to get people to pay attention? Do you want to find a label that will allow you to reach more people? What’s your ideal situation?
That’s some high praise friend, thank you. We get mixed feelings here at home (in Alabama at least), Either people really like us, or they really don’t. We are still fairly unknown to the general public here in AL, but have small groups of followers/fans/listeners in towns like Chattanooga TN, Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, Tuscaloosa AL, and a few places in TX & OK.. (and a few in the UK thanks to Whiskey Preachin!).
As far as press goes, it’s in and out. We get played on a few stations across the Southeast/Southwest, but we are fairly new to reviews. When the EP came out, we had no idea that you even had to send your stuff to get reviewed or how it all worked. This time around (with Lee County’s Finest) we have learned a little more. Finally, with articles and other press, I think we have been on a few lists (AL.com) of upcoming bands, and have been featured in a couple magazines
Our philosophy on press and the Ideal situation is this: We try not to seek out press but rather let it come to us, because it seems more sincere that way. If people like it enough then it will happen, if not, then it won’t. There’s already so many bands and groups that are constantly in your face “Look at me, look at this”, not saying that’s an invalid way of going about it, or that we are even above that, but we try and take a more laid back-hands off approach when it comes to self promotion and press (for better or worse). If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be, and if it’s not, then it’s not. Regardless of what happens in that realm, we’ll continue to make the sounds that we want to make as a band and focus on what’s most important, which is the music.
Finally, As far as record labels go, I feel that most are obsolete nowadays, simply for the fact that you can record an album, sell it, and distribute it all from a computer. What we are looking for currently is the right person to handle booking, representation, and management. We have been on a couple agency’s in the past, but they haven’t worked out. At the moment we are a working band so we do everything ourselves, booking, press, distribution, media, and everything else, which really is a pain in the ass!
Which artists do you find yourself listening to the most? Whose record would you reach for after getting in from a gig?
That’s tough to say. I have a variety of different things I listen to, but I’ll pull up what I’ve been listening to lately and ramble off…
Kurt Vile, Willie Nelson, Charlie Parker, George Gershwin, Lucero, Nas, JJ Grey, Mario Lanza, Leah Blevins, Marty Robbins, Brandi Carlile, Beatles, Sex Pistols, Bach, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Todd Snider, Willis Alan Ramsey, Bob Wills, Lou Reed, Sufjan Stevens, Skynyrd, Guy Clark, Al Green, Louvin Brothers, Ravi Shankar, Vieux Farka Toure, Beach Boys, David Byrne, Gene Watson, Wanda Jackson, Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys, Jimmie Rodgers... the list goes on…
As far as records go, Personally I love listening to any Brian Wilson composition.. Typically, Pet Sounds or Smile, but as far as post-gig music goes, that we listen to as a band after shows on the road, a common one is The Green Album by Willis Alan Ramsey (only record he ever made, but it’s a masterpiece).
Which new artists would you suggest I should check out? Has anyone made you sit up and pay attention recently?
I usually don’t get too stimulated by contemporary artists or bands that often.. But here are some that I’ve been listening to lately: Shannon Shaw, Brent Cobb, Banditos, Robert Ellis, and Kelsey Waldon…
So there you have it, ladies and gentleman. BB Palmer, in his own words. All I can do now is entreat you to go and buy a copy, put it it on repeat and see if you’re not coming back to it weeks later, amazed that it has still more strange and beautiful things to announce from its occulted depths.