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Lightnin’ Rod & The Thunderbolts - After The Storm

The influx of post-Katrina independent music has been pervasive, to say the least.  As we approach the third anniversary of the storm, the emotions elicited by the event remain palpable, and many testaments to the tragedy have surfaced over the past three years.  The title track of Lightnin’ Rod & The Thunderbolts’ After The Storm is noteworthy among these, though only because it feels exceptionally out of place in the playful vibe of an otherwise solid, non-Katrina-influenced album.  The track and its successor, “Writing on the Wall” form a suite of sorts - a heart-on-the-sleeve smooth rocker, and a minor-key airing of grievances and doubts – neither of which come close to their mark.  The need to give voice to the maelstrom of emotion is certainly understandable, but lines like “the future ain’t what it used to be / because freedom’s never free” are inexcusable.  In addition, the vow to “fight for my rights and my freedoms” in the midst of a song that presents itself as a Katrina memorial seems vaguely hypocritical coming from a white blues musician from Michigan.  Sadly, the songs cast an ideological pall over the album that Rod & The ‘Bolts have to work hard to redeem.

This is not to say that After The Storm is devoid of merit- the band seem to have no trouble working hard, and the back half of the album shines as a result.    When messages don’t supersede the music, After The Storm has no trouble rocking.  The musicianship is first rate, and “Lightnin’” Rod Wilson’s vocals are a sandpapered delight.  Songwriting of the ilk found in tracks “Rosalee” belie no small songwriting talent, and the good-time swing of “Crawling Back Home” makes the listener wish that Wilson would spend less time baring his soul and more time finishing his beer.  However, the best songs on the album are the surprises; “I Guess I’ll Just Sing You The Blues,” sung by backup vocalist Danielle Gross, simply smolders; “John The Revelator” works as an understated doppelganger for “Writing on the Wall” (though it also underscores the futility of a three-year-old Katrina tribute), and “Alligator Woman” rocks far harder than the funkless take on a bayou opening lets on.

Despite these diamonds, the album is, on the whole, rough.  Given the level of technical mastery of the band, one would expect something slightly more adventurous.  After The Storm is obviously a labor of love, but one hopes that the band’s next release will tread some new territory.  The bottom line is that Wilson and company aren’t reinventing the wheel and their by-the-numbers modern blues rock can get tiresome, but there’s enough to listen to on the album to make it worthwhile.  Take the album for what it is – finely crafted, but nothing new – and you’ll even be able to forgive the fact that you’ve heard the hook from “Narcissistic Fool” several times before.

Review by John McCormick

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