Bayou Lightning

Lonnie Brooks

Alligator, 1979

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Lonnie Brooks had been chasing blues superstardom for close to 20 years when he got the opportunity to be part of the Living Chicago Blues series of albums released by Alligator, which featured unrecorded or underrecorded artists. From his contributions, he earned a recording contract with the label, and Bayou Lightning was his first full-length effort for them.

Now, I personally have a lot of respect for Brooks, having met him in 1989 and discovering he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interview. So, it causes me no small amount of pain to admit this: I don’t like this album.

It’s not that Brooks and his backing band (including harmonica work from Billy Branch) are not capable of performing the music. It’s not that Brooks’s guitar work isn’t good. It’s just that the material they cover—at least, over half of it—is delivered in a bit of a slipshod manner that makes the efforts difficult to listen to.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From the opening track “Voodoo Daddy,” the listener knows that Bayou Lightning is going to be a bit of a tempest. Lyrically, it’s underdeveloped. Musically, it’s underdeveloped. And having Brooks speak the storyline at the end doesn’t help matters any.

It doesn’t get much better for the first half of the album. “Warchdog,” “Breakfast In Bed” and “In The Dark” all underwhelm in their performances; “Watchdog” almost sounds forced at times. And “Figure Head,” while notable for the rhythmic changes that permeate the song, just never gets off the ground with its lyrical content that borders on annoying.

Thankfully, the bulk of the second half of Bayou Lightning recovers from what could have been a fatal blow to the album. “Worked Up Woman” isn’t strictly 12-bar blues, but it does give Brooks and band the chance to finally shine and do what they were best at. Similarly, “Watch What You Got” and “You Know What My Body Needs” crank up the energy when it was desperately needed. Add into this a cover of “I Ain’t Superstitious” that both lives up to the original and gives Brooks a chance to put his own signature on it, and the disc finally gets a chance to redeem itself.

And, perhaps, that’s what bothers me about Bayou Lightning—namely, it could have been so much better had different material been chosen. There’s enough evidence on this one to prove that Brooks had what it takes to earn his time in the spotlight. The problem is there’s not enough moments like that to salvage the album.

Brooks would go on to bigger and better things, but Bayou Lightning was not his finest moment. It’s worth checking the stellar tracks out, but the listener is cautioned that it’s a strong storm you have to endure to get to those moments of sunshine.

Rating: C-

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