The Magic Lightnin’ Boys hail from Cincinnati, Ohio, which immediately tells me a lot about the band since I spent four of my most formative years in that area. For people of the Midwest like me, Cincinnati is the gateway to the South where these regions converge like the pasta, cheese, and onions added to the chili base of Cincinnati chili.
This band has more than a heaping helping of Southern influence, creating its own dish combining Southern rock and blues with a smidgen of funk, served piping hot. Formed in 2014, next month TMLB will be putting out its first full-length studio release in “Stealin’ Thunder” after doing both a studio EP and live album last year.
So the question is whether this new 13-track compilation will be enough to catapult them to a national platform, and indeed I think it’s possible on one condition: listening audiences redevelop an appreciation for the blues as opposed to the rap and hip-hop influence pervasive in modern popular music.
“Stealin’ Thunder” begins with a short bit of spoken word and harmonica called Nan’s Poem. The first thing it made me think of is a song buried on John Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow” album called Grandma’s Theme, which is the prelude to a much more familiar tune called Small Town. I don’t know if Nan’s Poem will lead into a megahit called Bones, but TMLB’s second track is a classic blues number that features some tasty slide guitar and harmonica. They employ a somewhat similar technique on the next couple of songs, with the almost mellow – well, as mellow as you can get with a fuzzed-out guitar sound – instrumental called Before the Storm building into a crescendo before yielding to April Rain.
April Rain sounded like it could have been lifted as an outtake from an Allman Brothers album circa 1971, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. Things are “always better with a cheap-ass bottle of wine,” and that’s the attitude they carry on this track and the next one, the bass-driven Fear & Freedom. “On the other side of fear lies freedom,” indeed, as TMLB isn’t afraid to show they can do bluesy southern rock with the best of them. For me, those were two of the highlight songs on the album. The rocking coda of April Rain and the fact there’s just enough guitar on Fear & Freedom to give the song real life is a testament to the album’s writing and production. Normally I’m not big on self-produced work but the band kept things nicely in line for this one.
As I was writing this, I was also listening to their earlier studio work just to see what kind of a directional change is made on the next song, Roll. It’s a more urban sound, integrating a horn section into their standard blues-based fare. I appreciated the nod to a different sphere of influence, but it didn’t quite fit for me. After the instrumental ballad The Cleansing, the album reaches its lead single, called The Ride. It’s a very good representation of TMLB’s sound, so listen for yourself.
Now that I’ve seen the video, I have to agree lead singer Casey Gomez looks like a bluesman. The other band members are Brian Tarter on lead guitar, Richie Lee on bass, and Kurt Lipphardt on the drums. (As an aside, after reviewing a number of completely solo, in-studio efforts over the past few months, it is refreshing to see a real band playing.)
After another brief and mainly instrumental (just two guitars) tune called Spaceship Blues, TMLB runs through two songs that could be radio hits if programmers knew what they were doing, Mojo and Rubber Side Down. The former reminded me of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, while the latter is another fast blues number. These lead into the final short acoustic track called Bondo’s Ballad and the finale N2U, which as it’s written is a classic closing track. It’s a definite “thank you, good night!” kind of song if played live. (Actually, just before I put this review to bed I noticed on their website a lot of these songs are featured live, including N2U. Call it a pro tip, and let’s just say I wasn’t far off.) Supposedly the band will be “extensively touring” in support of this album during the summer and fall, and I think this may be a fertile area for a band that plays the blues.
I know this is only mid-April and hopefully I will have a lot more music to review, but I have a sneaking hunch this will be in the running for my top 5 at the end of the year. I’m sure the band would agree it’s time to geographically expand their fanbase, so if you like old-style Southern blues-based rock this could be a revival band you’re looking for.