Omar & the Howlers

Big Delta

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Now on his 14th release for approximately ten different labels, Texan Omar Dykes keeps the faith by re-recording some of his better tracks, and adding a few new covers. While it looks on paper to be treading water, this is really one of the band's strongest releases, since the material -- which has often been inconsistent -- is top-notch, and the new Howlers are a crack unit with impeccable chops. Omar attacks and rearranges these songs with the experience of having played them for years, in many cases making these versions more definitive than the originals, an unusual occurrence when an artist revisits his own work. Whether taking "Muddy Springs Road" down to the swamp and saturating the tune with greasy acoustic slide guitar or rescuing the slow blues of "Life Without You" from obscurity while singing it with crying emotional intensity, this makes a case for Dykes as one of the most talented and least recognized contemporary bluesmen. There are a few missteps; the band's plodding version of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" adds nothing to the original, other than proving how much Omar's voice sounds like Leslie West's, and the Bob Seger-isms of the simplistic rock & roller "Caveman Rock" seem forced and stilted. But it's great to hear terrific older tracks like "Bad Seed" and "Wall of Pride" redone with restraint and class. Dykes is in fine voice throughout, growling and howling with raspy delight, a combination of Howlin' Wolf and John Fogerty wading through the muddy southern river banks. Since as of 2002 there was no comprehensive, multi-label Omar collection available (and with the different imprints he recorded for, one does not seem likely), this fills the bill just fine as a greatest hits compilation. Those who want a taste of the deep, moody, growling blues-rock of Omar & the Howlers should start here.

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