By Al Kaufman
As the name implies, The Back Row Baptists are a group that carry a Bible in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. They want to be good but, well, there are just so many fun evil things tempting them.
On opening cut, “Wood & Steel,” lead singer Chris Porter sings about the joys of red-headed women. The debauchery does not let up for the rest of the CD. “Don’t be scared to raise some hell,” advises Porter on “By and By,” a sort of bluesy gospel shuffle that the early Stones excelled at. The angelic-voiced Sarah Green takes over vocal duties on the beautifully forlorn “Alright By Me.” Adam Guthrie’s gentle ukulele opening sets the tone about a girl who falls in love with a bad boy.
The Baptists, from Birmingham, Ala., have done a wonderful job of mixing the early Stones with the original alt-country giants, Uncle Tupelo. Porter’s characters are regular people trying to fight their dark demons, no more so than on “There You Are,” a talk song in the vein of Guy Clark or Townes Van Zandt, about a band member with a serious prescription drug and girlfriend problem. It’s raw, tragic, and real. “We made it to the show all right/Just 13 hours late/Had a wonderful time in Kansas/They never called us back to play.” It’s some of the most tragic, darkest humor ever written.
Their take on the Dorsey Dixon’s gospel classic, “Wreck on the Highway,” rings true, as does everything on here. The only misfire is pianist Heath Green’s “Thousand Songs.” Sounding like a ’70s adult contemporary cut, it is completely incongruous to the rest of the record.
The only other fault with the CD is that it is missing that barn-burner of a song that sends the bar rooms rocking. “Fourth of July,” with its “Goddamn, raise hell” refrain, and Heath Green’s rockabilly piano, comes close, but it never lets loose. But that’s quibbling. Broken Hearts & Bad Decisions, recorded in Atlanta, is real music about real people. It may not necessarily help you find God, but it goes down well with a bottle of whiskey.