Sometimes the pieces just don’t come together. With his beat up Fender Telecaster, boatload of effects and worn, warm voice, Lightnin’ Malcolm ought to be perfectly poised to pull off the rough-edged blues troubadour thing. With partner and dummer Cameron Kimbrough, Malcolm aims to plow the fertile furrow explored by such acts as the Black Keys, Black Pistol Fire, and the White Stripes. But something is missing: the songs lack urgency, and the musicianship, though competent enough, seems to lose something in the studio.
Opener “Ain’t Even Worried” encapsulates the album’s shortcomings: repetitive and monotonous, it manages to deaden an appealing stew of sounds with a flat vocal delivery and dull lyrics. Follow-up tunes like “Stop Fightin’ Over Me” and “So Many Women” fall into the same trap. Taken individually, any given song is entertaining enough, but coming one after the other leaves the listener with a strong sense of having heard it all before. Many times. Done better.
Not all the news is bad. “Guilty Man” utilizes Malcolm’s grubby guitar sound to good effect, bolstered with an unobtrusive horn section, while “Come Go with Me” chugs along with infectious energy. In fact, many of the record’s best songs are buried in the second half: “North Mississippi” mixes in those horns again, along with plenty of wah-wah pedal and an unexpected contribution from rapper J Grubbz. “Foxfire Ranch” is another chug-a-lug stomper featuring plenty of six-string work and no vocals at all. A mixed bag, then, neither horrible nor great. It’s fine for something to listen to on a road trip, but if Lightnin’ Malcolm aspires to guitar god status, he still has some work to do.