Monday, April 02, 2012

Omar and the Howlers Essential Collection

Ruf Records has just issued a double CD set by Omar and the Howlers, Essential Collection. This is a career and label spanning compilation that covers the two or so decades of the recording career of Omar Dykes. The first of the two discs was compiled by Ruf while Omar himself selected the second of the two discs, producing over two hours of some choice music. He also proves some commentary on the songs he selected.

It has been easy to take Omar and the Howlers for granted, but from the opening moments of Magic Man, with its Bo Diddley groove, and dedicated to Omar’s fellow McComb, Mississippi native, through the acoustic rendering of Built For Comfort, with Magic Slim that closes the second disc, one is constantly impressed by Omar’s presence as a vocalist as well as his gritty blues guitar playing. His hoarse, husky vocals might be likened to that of Howlin’ Wolf although he is not one to try to imitate Wolf. At the same time his mix of string bending, single note runs and hard chords consistently stand out. Its also nice how he and the band can lay down a hot, rocking groove but not try to overwhelm us. Omar recognizes and makes use of the space between the notes played, letting the silence speak at times.

Certainly there is a rock flavor on much of this such as the kick-ass shuffle like Border Girl, but his rocking songs has his feet still planted in the blues. Hard Times in the Land of Plenty is a driving rocker with his message about some doing real well while others on the welfare line. The consistency over the thirty performances standout, as these recordings include some from his outstanding collaboration with jimmy Vaughan Jimmy Reed Highway, or his relaxed, expressive delivery of Oscar Brown’s lyrics to Nat Adderly’s Work Song, with David ‘Fathead’ Newman on saxophone. The latter number not only had him with one of his musical heroes but displayed his musical range as the tenor of his vocal is much different than Omar’s outrageous reworking of the Leiber-Stoller Alligator Wine which is a fine cover from the Screaming Jay Hawkins school book with some nice guitar as well along with some controlled frenzy. Then there is another rocker with the driving Bo Diddley beat, Do It For Daddy.

I have not listened to the entire body of recordings by Omar and the Howlers, and there may be some lesser songs he has recorded over the years. However, nothing on Essential Collection is less than first-rate making for an exceptional career retrospective and harbinger hopefully of much more of the same in the future.

I received my review copy from a publicist for the release. Here is an actual video for Hard Times in the Land of Plenty.

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