Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Essential Collection reviewed by Rick Davis

Essential Collection
Omar & The Howlers
Ruf Records
www.omarandthehowlers. com
2 CDs/30 Tracks

The Howlers were started in 1973 by "Omar" Kent Dykes in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, as a party band and then relocated to Austin, Texas. Omar & The Howlers will soon celebrate their 40th anniversary of that Mississippi/Texas bayou blues sound they have so famously crafted and performed across the nation. Texas blues artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and blues guitar extraordinaire Freddie King preceded the blues renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s. Continuing that Texas blues tradition with a modern blues sound during the 60s and 70s were groups like Janis Joplin, the Winter brothers, and ZZ Top, keeping the Texas blues edge alive and putting it into the popular rock mainstream. The 1980s saw the Austin area a blues mecca, full of bands like the Vaughan brothers, Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, Jim Colgrave and the Jukejumpers, the Cobras, Bill Carter, Denny Freeman, Marsha Ball, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and host of other musicians selling records and filling venues like Clifford Antone’s famous blues club. Included in this group is Omar & The Howlers with "Omar" Kent Dykes being one of the best in the blues business at blending both the forms of the old masters as well as the styles of his Lone Star contemporaries.

Their latest release Omar & The Howlers- Essential Collection is a double CD set of 30 live and studio recordings, with the first disc being a collection of 15 fan favorites titled “Best Of” and the second disc is 15 of Omar’s personal favorites titled “Omar’s Picks.” This is one of the best collections of Texas blues music and blues musicians you will find anywhere! After looking at the lineup of musicians throughout the 30 tunes, familiar names like Reese Wynans, George Rains, Derek O’Brian, Terry Bozzio, and Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff suddenly appeared. Texas blues fans will find names like these on many albums of Texas blues artists from the 70’s and 80s. Guest artists, Chris Duarte, Magic Slim, Gary Primich, Jimmy Vaughan, and Lou Ann Barton appear on this treasury of Texas blues.

The “Best Of” CD opens with four live recordings with the first being “Magic Man,” a tribute to Ellas Otha Bates (Bo Diddley). That Bo Diddley beat is a fitting way to kick off a disc of this caliber! “East Side Blues” is one of the best pure blues numbers in the package. The remaining live selections are Steve Ray Vaughan inspired “Border Girl” and rock ‘n’ roll driven “Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty.” Omar’s “Texas growl” vocals echo distinctly on the three selections from Big Delta “Bad Seed,” Monkey Land,” and “Wall Of Pride.” That swamp blues sound emerges out of the bayou on yet another live number “Mississippi Hoo Doo Man.” The two superb selections that were chosen from Blues Bag are “Big Chief Pontiac” and “Tears Like Rain.” Another great choice with incredible slide guitar is the tribute to the psychic soothsayers “Snake Oil Doctor,” with Omar sounding just like the late great Wolfman Jack. In my opinion, the pair of songs “Muddy Springs Road” and “Boogie Man” exemplify Omar & The Howlers at their best. Both tunes would be in my top ten Texas blues list. Disc one would not be complete without the influence of Jimmy Reed on the two numbers “You Made Me Laugh” and “Jimmy Reed Highway” the tribute to legends like Jimmy Reed, Lightning Slim, Slim Harpo, Eddie Taylor, and Lazy Lester.

Omar’s personal favorites on disc two include “I Want You,” “Snake Rhythm Rock,” and “Burn It To The Ground,” top shelf selections from the 1996 album Southern Style. From the album World Wide Open tunes “Got My Heart Set On You,” “Sugar Ditch,” and “World Of Trouble” were included. Tunes from Swingland are the jazz flavored “Work Song,” swamp drenched “Alligator Wine” and “That’s Your Daddy Yaddy Yo” with a zydeco twist. Included from the early 1994 disc Courts of Lulu are “Do It For Daddy” and “I’m Wild About You.” Completing the tunes on Omar’s list of favorites are “Stone Cold Blues” from Boogie Man, slide guitar classic “Girl’s Got Rhythm” from The Screamin’ Cat, and the soulful “Life Without You” from Muddy Springs Road. Disc two concludes with Omar and Magic Slim delivering the acoustic Willie Dixon tune “Built For Comfort.”

If you are not familiar with Omar & The Howlers, this double barrel shot will only ignite your desire for more. For the Texas blues fan, Omar & The Howlers- Essential Collection won’t stay on your shelf long. This collection is a candidate for the blues hall of fame.

Reviewed by Rick Davis

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