Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts – Long Road Back to Eden | Album Review

Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts – Long Road Back to Eden

Memphis Blues Records

CD: 9 Songs, 35 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

Why do people play the blues? Some play for love. Others play for money. Still others know the blues as a calling, a compulsion, music they must play or their souls will shrivel. Is this the case with Kentucky-based band Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts? On the one hand, their new CD Long Road Back to Eden showcases leading man Rod Wilson’s prowess on guitar. On the other hand, beneath his flashy fretwork lies an incomplete core, a missing piece of the blues puzzle. Call it what you like – passion, drive, obsession, even madness – but you’ll search in vain. On nine songs – seven originals and two covers – Wilson and his compatriots give what they can, but it doesn’t sound like 110%. It’s good enough, but it could have been great.

A pity. Lightnin’ Rod has won recent critical acclaim in the past few years, including the 2019 Josie Music Award “ENTERTAINER OF THE YEAR,” Jazz, Blues, Soul, and the 2018 Global Music Awards Silver Medal Winner for the album Delta Time. He’s shared the stage with members of the Allman Brothers, Bob Seger, The Steve Miller Band, Cher, Stevie Nicks, Steppenwolf, Chuck Berry, Robert Cray, The Temptations & Four Tops, among others. Some might accuse the band of resting on its laurels, but as any true artist knows, there are always more to earn. As much as these musicians seek to please fans of differing genres, they should really double down on the blues if they seek higher influence in its sphere. They’ve certainly got the skills.

Performing with Lightnin’ Rod (all guitars, lead vocals, and percussion) are Greg Kitzmiller on drums and percussion; Jimmy Seville on bass guitar; Tommy Cates on harmonica; David Sears on piano, and Kristi Kitzmiller, Danielle Gross, Tiffany Wilson, and Kaylee Bays on harmony vocals.

The theme of this album is redemption, and how long and hard one must work to obtain it. After the serviceable opener “Kentucky Mojo” comes “Reverend Jones,”  an ode to a departed preacher who took a firm stand against evil and “never gave the Devil no slack.” The title track is a down-and-dirty blues rocker expounding on the wages of sin. “Eight thousand years, nothing learned as we watch ourselves crash and burn. You’ll never see the promised land if you don’t lay down a helping hand. A long, long, long road back to Eden.” If that’s too heavy for your party mood, try the lighthearted “Florida Shore” and Rod’s cover of “What a Wonderful World.”

Ever seen the movie The Lighthouse? It features a “wickie” who’s so drawn to the mysterious light at the top of the titular structure that he’s willing to do anything to tend it – including losing his soul and sanity. Not that Lightnin’ Rod and the Thunderbolts should go that far, but they could use a flare of St. Elmo’s fire in their music. The blues, like the sea, should be haunting.

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