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Music Review: Omar & The Howlers – Essential Collection

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“Omar” Kent Dykes formed The Howlers during 1973 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but within three years they had relocated to Austin, Texas. Formed as a frat-type party band, they quickly developed into a blues/rock band that took on the name of their lead singer/guitarist who has been the group’s constant presence.

Omar & The Howlers are approaching the 40-year mark in their career. They are one of those bands who have toured relentlessly and issued close to 20 albums without attaining superstar status. Still, the quality of their work has allowed them to build a solid fan base and attain moderate commercial success.

If you are into energetic and well-crafted blues and rock/blues fusion music and have not experienced Omar & The Howlers, then this may be an album for you. Essential Collection is a two-disc CD that gathers together many of the better performances, both live and in the studio, of their career. The first disc is titled “The Best Of,” while the second is titled “Omar’s Picks,” which includes original and cover material that reflects the people and places that have influenced his music. It all comes together as a fine introduction to their long career.

The majority of his “Best Of” material is stripped down to drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. It was a wise decision to begin the album with four live tracks, as they present his sound without gimmicks. Dykes is one of those guitarists who can fill in the sound so that it appears as if he is playing both the rhythm and lead parts. He has a gravelly voice that tends to grow on you and is perfect for the electric blues. “Magic Man,” “East Side Blues,” “Border Girl,” and “Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty” run the gamut from rock, to slow blues, to classic electric Texas blues.

Near the end of the disc, he expands the sound by adding a second guitarist and on occasion a keyboardist or harmonica player. The highlights are the ominous-sounding “Snake Oil Doctor” and the blues romp “Jimmy Reed Highway” with guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and co-vocalist Lou Ann Barton.

The second disc features a bigger sound with the inclusion of additional guitars, keyboards, and even a sax from time to time. His covers of Clarence Brown’s “That’s Your Daddy Yaddy Yo” and Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort” are modern blues clinics. Add in Leiber & Stoller’s “Alligator Wine,” plus his own “Sugar Ditch,” and “Snake Rhythm Rock,” which all explore his love of the blues, and you have an album of consistently good music.

Essential Collection is a fine trip through the blues, Texas style. It is also a fine snapshot into the mind and music of Kent Dykes and his band, Omar & The Howlers.

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