Black Oak Arkansas

Balls of Fire

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Black Oak Arkansas was in sharp decline both musically and commercially by the time Balls of Fire reached record stores in 1976. They were only a few years removed from the High On the Hog glory days, but four hitless albums had taken a toll on the band's confidence and direction. Half-baked ballads like "Just to Fall in Love" that feature an updated, operatic vocal delivery from legendary raunch 'n' roller James "Jim Dandy" Mangrum are the disappointing proof of the Southern rocker's conceptual confusion. Mangrum's habit of trailing off each melody with a descending croak appears to have been shaken, but the singer's updated style is no less irritating on Balls of Fire. It sounds as if he has been coached out of his element. Black Oak Arkansas revives some of their best Southern rock boogie grooves on standout numbers like "Rock 'n' Roll" and "All My Troubles." These tracks, along with a cover of Bob Seger's "Ramblin' Man," are some of the best the group committed to vinyl. The woeful ballads and "Fistful of Love" -- a not-so-subtle innuendo piece that could make Spinal Tap appear poetic and delicate -- will sour most listeners to this release despite the occasionally striking Southern rock moments.

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