How many times at one point or another have we all thought to ourselves ‘damn, I hope the artist (of my adoration) starts the next album off with a recording from Grandma’. We’ve all done it, you’ve done it, I started that petition… the people have spoken. Sarcasm of course, but the decision by The Magic Lightnin’ Boys to start their newest album Stealin’ Thunder off with Grandma’s voice was a little blindsiding. Now you may go ahead and call me a purist, but I have always thought of Nanna’s recordings as a mid-album bridge if anything at all. However, add to it an incredibly emotive bluesy harmonica and what we have here folks, is what the literary world likes to refer to as foreshadowing.
The practice of inserting a phone message as a track on an album is of course nothing new, having been successfully utilized in the 90’s, back when voicemails were answering machines. In 1996, on Blind Melon’s third album Nico, after the late Shannon Hoon’s daughter, Hoon can be heard singing and playing guitar on a shifty recording of a recording. However, when Blind Melon chose to insert the message from Hoon onto Nico entitled “Letters From A Porcupine”, they did so by electing to present the track at the very end of the LP. Hoon’s incoming message turned posthumous album contribution paled in comparison to the airtime given to Kendrick Lamar’s family in 2012, when on Good Kid M.A.A.D City, the compton based rapper featured multiple snippets of voicemails left by his mother and father woven throughout the entirety of the album
Regardless of how The Magic Lightnin’ Boys chose to start Stealin’ Thunder, their second album in as many years, the four-piece waste little time throughout the remaining 39 minutes and 12 seconds of the release, unmasking a blitzkrieg of soul capturing blues fused with down-home classic rock and a dash of New Orleans inspired jazz for good measure. Although these Buckeyes have now thrust themselves into a movement aimed at reinvigorating some of the aforementioned traditional styles of heart-felt music, they still incorporate a Blind Melon Soup style to their guitar work at the end of “April Rain”.
Garnering comparisons to the likes of Gary Clark Jr. and The Black Keys, the relatively newly formed (2014) Magic Lightnin’ Boys do a commendable job sounding tight, like a band with considerably more time together. Never more so does the Ohio based band flaunt their chemistry and sonic intent on Stealin’ Thunder than on the second track of the album and first traditional song to be assimilated called “Bones”. The Magic Lightnin’ Boys combine a barrage of southern-style blues influenced harmonica with the emotional and seasoned vocal bellows strong enough to make Everlast know what it’s like to have the blues; both elements courtesy of Casey Gomez. Not to be outdone, Brian Tartar’s guitar on “Bones” is as catchy as it is cutting and dirty during the rhythm sections, employing a very swamp-rock accent to his electric steel guitar sound. A perfectly timed tune with “Bones” in terms of both pacing and duration that is further accentuated by a lengthy yet not masturbatory execution of a quintessential blues-rock guitar solo about ? of the way though the signature track.
Whether by accident or inspired by, the instrumental track “Before The Storm” starts off with a clap of thunder much like “Riders on the Storm” the classic track off of The Door’s sixth and final album L.A. Woman. Further homage to The Doors is realised subtly on “Before The Storm” when Tartar’s guitar creeps in with a tone reminiscent of Robby Krieger’s on albums such as Waiting for the Sun or The Soft Parade, back when during live performances Jim Morrison’s allegorical storytelling was enacted onstage as a performance piece; the band often improvising as Morrison recited a pre-selected collection of poems and spoken verses he called “The Celebration of the Lizard”.
The Magic Lightnin’ Boys are fraught with talent and a combination of skills that could see them on the same stage as the The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Buddy Guy alike. It’s a testament to the current state of music or the ‘it’s all been done before’ theory that on “April Rain” the band can sound so much like The Allman Brothers then segue into a Jimi Hendrix-esq intro on “Fear & Freedom”. Despite hearing the groove and simplicity of the one-off supergroup Madseason on the song“The Ride”, and despite all of the comparisons to other artists I have listed The Magic Lightnin’ Boys somehow manage to maintain their own honesty and integrity in their sound.
Of the many good qualities The Magic Lightnin’ Boys exude, perhaps the most important is the ability to identify with the listener in the sincere and emotional way that the quartet seems to naturally convey. If challenged, even the layman would easily pick up on a feeling that quite frankly is surprising to hear out of an outfit only two years at each other’s side; one can imagine that live this intangible would only be magnified.
It shouldn’t be too long before any one of the members looks around at the large crowd that they see before them on the proverbial horizon and ask just how they got there. To ease any worried minds out there, they’re not to be forgotten and if they continue down the path they’ve begun with Stealin’ Thunder, this band is wasting nobody’s time.
Note: This review was written based on the track order on the band’s Soundcloud account, since the upload of the album on Soundcloud the band has re-ordered the track listing for flow. “Nan’s Poem” (Grandma’s voicemail) has been reordered to…you guessed it, the middle of the album.