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OMAR AND THE HOWLERS – Essential Collection – Review by The Bluebird

by GFats on June 21, 2012

OMAR AND THE HOWLERS
Essential Collection
Ruf Records (B005VQRU9C)

From Austin Texas, Kent “Omar” Dykes grew up in McComb, Mississippi, which is local to Bo Didley. “The Essential Collection,” includes two CD’s, with thirty songs total, for a blues education and in depth reflection.  The first of which is a “best of” set of tracks from Omar’s discography of songs. The second CD is “Omar’s picks,” which is the collection of Omar’s favorite songs, played with a select group of musicians. There are no fillers here, folks. With multiple talents and tributes to blues legends, each song brings with it a story, that was either told, is being told, or should be told. Spend some quality time with this record, pay it a visit. And be sure to take a good long drink of Omar’s “Alligator Wine.” You’ll never be the same again.

Track By Track
CD-1 Best Of
1. Magic Man- Live at the Paradiso (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, Bruce Jones-bass guitar, Gene Brandon-drums
Catchy and quick, with tight arrangements, being “on the go with the magic man” is a great introduction to this collection.
2. East Side Blues- Bamboozled, Live in Germany (2006).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, Barry Bihm-bass guitar, John Hahm-drums
Opening riffs and slow sweet sultry chords take this blues classic nice and easy. Omar’s vocals are gruff enough to be a good contrast, but you hear every note. There is pause and good timing to keep the song right on track. Bihm’s bass guitar is smooth and makes the song just hum.
3. Border Girl- Live at the Paradiso (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, Bruce Jones-bass guitar, Gene Brandon-drums
“Always hot in Texas”
Served up on a silver plate, this gem sparkles in the Southern sun. Bringing in images of geography, with unstoppable love across the border, nothing will keep you from moving in your seat to this catchy rhythm. Run with the Howlers, as they catch Omar chasing his border girl!
4. Hard Times in The Land of Plenty- Live at the Paradiso (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, Bruce Jones-bass guitar, Gene Brandon-drums
The core philosophy of the blues comes through here, with resilient lyrics and rhythmic mixes of down low guitar, steady drums and deep bass foundations. The upbeat tempo is maintained and keeps the album rockin’, because “you have to hustle to stay alive!”
5. Bad Seed – Big Delta (2002).
Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar, Roscoe Beck – bass guitar, Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne – guitars, electric sitar, BE “Frosty” Smith – drums
What a treat to have this piece of the Delta on the essential collection here. One stop listening of multiple styles of the blues. Papa Mali’s electric sitar sounds so sweet and keeps the singer songwriter quality where real instruments are used in a purposeful way to create timeless sounds. The groove behind the whole production is just impeccable. Omar’s vocals are underscored by the guitar lines, the call and response pattern with the instruments and the vocals is just great blues structure!
6. Wall of Pride- Big Delta (2002).
Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Roscoe Beck – bass guitar. Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne – guitars, electric sitar. B.E. “Frosty” Smith – drums.
This is a lean, mean don’t mess with us song, that defines beliefs without apologies. It has in your face impact. The lyrics are strong for Southern Mississippi pride, “down to the bone, generations deep, Mississippi grown.” “Like my people before me, I’m proud of what I am, they built a wall of pride, with the work of honest hands.” Well said, Gentlemen, well said.
7. Mississippi Hoo Doo Man –  Live at the Paradiso (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar. Bruce Jones-bass guitar. Gene Brandon-drums.
Bridge vocals with some creative improv make this song and the ending has some great riffs with a little twang. Most of the song follows a blues standard, so hearing Omar use his howling privilege is a good thing that changes it up a bit.
8. Big Chief Pontiac – Blues Bag (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, harmonica. Bruce Jones-bass guitar. Gene Brandon-drums.
Love the harp on this and the precise tapping drums on this one. Southern charm seems to travel anywhere, kickin up dust!
9. Tears Like Rain – Blues Bag (1991).
Credits- Omar Dykes-vocals, guitar, harmonica. Bruce Jones-bass guitar. Gene Brandon-drums.
Jones understated bass gets a subtle spotlight mid-song. Omar’s vocals are at their best when they go off track, “every day I got to suff-er …”
10. Monkey Land – Big Delta (2002).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Roscoe Beck – bass guitar. Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne – guitars. Terry Bozzio – drums.
Monkey Land seemed to have a flat tone and given the topic, I think Omar could have howled a little bit more and the band could have taken some deeper risks on this one.
11. Snake Oil Doctor – The Screamin’ Cat (2005).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Paul Junior – bass guitar. Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne – slide, barritone guitar. B. E. “Frosty Smith” – drums, percussion.
Low down and grungy, Papa Mali tears it up in this mystical classic. Don’t be fooled, Omar is out to control the minds of the listeners and embodies the character of the Snake Oil Doctor for sure. With this record, he does get the listeners into his trap. Frosty’s drums sound sharp, like glass, at the end of the song, making it sound like the doctor is right there in your living room.
12. Muddy Springs Road – Muddy Springs Road (1994).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Gary Primich – harmonica. Nick Connolly – piano, organ. Gary “Phareaux” Felton – bass guitar. George Rains – drums. Bradley Kopp – acoustic guitar. Mark Hallman – percussion.
Titled after the street where his parents lived in Magnolia, MS, right away, you can hear the hum of Connolly’s piano come in the side door, as the harp gets involved. References to the Hoo Doo man and the legendary stories are woven into this blues ballad. Omar tells the story with lyrical imagery, makes you feel like home – great song!
13. Boogie Man – Boogie Man (2004).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Chris Duarte- guitar. Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne – guitar. George Reiff – bass guitar. George Rains – drums, percussion.
Omar pays tribute to John Lee Hooker, and tells the story of this blues legend’s life and passing, while keeping it upbeat with great rhythm, and a solid composition from the band.
14. You Made Me Laugh – The Jimmy Reed Highway (2007).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Derek O’Brien – guitar. Gary Primich – harmonica. Bill Bihm- bass guitar. Jake Dykes – drums.
Album credits are to Omar Dykes and Jimmie Vaughan. Omar is a great collaborator, as he does what is best for the song, allowing the band to express themselves. Expert musicianship with traditional pacing and humming rhythms make this a signature blues track. Primich’s harp is no joke, and gives some wha-wha to this song right away. Built around his harp, Primich gets a well deserved spotlight. The end of the song is a great wind down, no fade outs here, they made a statement.
15. Jimmy Reed Highway –  The Jimmy Reed Highway (2007).
Credits- Omar Dykes- vocals, guitar. Jimmie Vaughan- guitar. Lou Ann Barton – vocals. Ronnie James- bass guitar. Wes Star – drums.
The Big Boss Man has had influence and been  immortalized by many in blues and rock music. Barton’s vocals add a lot to this song, and Vaughan’s guitar lends thumbprints all over this set. Straightforward and clean, but fun and personal, the rhythms and great bass work of Ronnie James frame this out to be a good wrap up to the first part of this Essential CD.
CD-2 Omar’s Picks
Song facts are from Omar’s liner notes:
“All songs represent a snapshot of influences and heroes throughout my career and are special to me for one reason or another.” ~Omar Dykes.
“Do It For Daddy” and “I’m Wild About You” are said to remind Omar of his childhood years, even though they were written some time later. “Life Without You” represents Omar’s having to face losses in life. Sharing this song with us, we can all relate, of course. The realism of the moment to moment interactions, where he calls the name of the one he lost, wishing they were there, is striking and brings it all home. Ironically, when a great artist writes a song like this, we don’t feel so alone anymore. Michael Dan Ehmig is hailed as one of Omar’s all time favorite co-writers (Sugar Ditch, Muddy Springs Blues, Stone Cold Blues). “Work Song” was recorded with David “Fathead” Newman, and is one of the highlights of Omar’s career.
Blues fans are going to like the various picks from Omar on this record for different reasons, as Omar himself has said. What he has done here is collect some historic pieces both from his own life and from blues history. “Built For Comfort” (Willie Dixon), was recorded by Omar with Rock Nalle and Magic Slim in Denmark, the song itself is a comfortable listen and a quietly confident man’s anthem. The banjo and string rhythms reflect its meaning.
My all time favorite of the entire collection from Omar and The Howlers was hands down, “Alligator Wine.” (Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller). Omar’s cover of this boiling potion is just genius! Leaving out the screaming from Jay Hawkins and giving out a hiss and a groan of his own at just the right times, it is a bad to the bone soriee that captures and doesn’t let go. He digs deep into the vocal treasure chest and casts off the pirates, because no one is stealing this thunderous bellow. Bald headed with frozen toes, whatever Omar’s got to pour up, you’ll be fallin for it, watch out!
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Essential Collection

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