Omar & the Howlers – Big Delta

Big Delta

In his 22 years as a recording artist, Omar Dykes has churned out a steady stream of solid albums (more than a dozen to date), but lately seems to be on a creative roll. He answered the multitude of jump-blues wannabes with 1999’s Swing Land, and in 2000 The Screamin’ Cat brought a new wrinkle from former Killer Bee Malcolm Welbourne in the producer’s chair. This time Welbourne (a.k.a. Papa Mali) co-produces with engineer Max Crace, and spices Omar’s meat-and-potatoes blues guitar with Dobro, slide, baritone guitar, and electric sitar.

Smart money would normally advise against backing a primitive like Omar (think Howlin’ Wolf) with a rhythm section whose collective credits encompass Eric Johnson, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Missing Persons and Lee Michaels. But from “Linin’ Track,” the work song that opens the program (about as unadorned as you can get), to the loose “Conversation Mambo” that closes the set, bassist Roscoe Beck and alternating drummers Terry Bozzio and B.E. Smith (better known as “Frosty”) sound like they were born in the same Delta as Omar – or at least got there as soon as they could.

Selections from earlier Omar albums are revisited and reinterpreted here, with fresh results every time. Beck and Bozzio dig the ultimate groove through “Monkey Land,” a Dykes original that reveals a sense of humor and irony that recalls Willie Dixon. Frosty is behind the kit for “Muddy Springs Road” and “Mystery Walk,” both of which nod in the direction of Tony Joe White. The album’s catchiest melody is “Bad Seed,” co-written by Omar and R.S. Field, which again features some oddly appropriate electric sitar.

The focus here is on the songs and Omar’s gravelly baritone. When he does stretch out instrumentally, as on the slow blues, “Life Without You,” it’s strictly business – and Omar & Co. get down to it.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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