Omar & the Howlers – I’m Gone (review)

Omar & the Howlers – I’m Gone (Big Guitar Music) review

The blues is like a good steak – if what you start out with is of good quality, there’s no need to add much to it.

In the case of steak, if you begin with a good cut of fresh meat, there’s no reason to put a bunch of seasoning on it, or marinade it for hours – it will taste just fine all by itself.  This is the same approach that Omar Dykes has taken to his music.

His first new album with his band the Howlers in eight years, I’m Gone, features many of the key musicians that have played with him over the years (several tracks include Bruce Jones on bass, and Wes Starr on drums, the same two guys that started with him over 30 years ago).  Recorded in just two days, with most everything laid down on the spot, there’s little chance to tinker with things – and it shows.  There is an immediacy in the performances that is lacking in many of the blues albums that get released every month.

The disc opens with the furious “I’m Gone,” featuring a stop/start rhythm borrowed from rockabilly classics like “Blue Suede Shoes” – the guitar solo even sounds like Elvis’ Scotty Moore.  That’s followed by “All About the Money,” featuring a Jimmy Reed-style shuffle, which makes sense, since Dykes’ last two albums were tributes to Reed, pairing him with the great Jimmie Vaughan.

While most musicians want to lie about their age, Dykes is celebrating it – proudly saluting his 50th year in the music business on the disc’s back cover (he got an early start, for sure).  And while Omar & the Howlers have always been labeled a blues band, he’s never content to stick with one particular style, managing the country, cry-in-your-beer “Drunkard’s Paradise,” followed by the Bo Diddley-infused “Wild and Free.”

There’s an instrumental interlude in the middle of the disc, featuring two tracks with no vocals.  The first one, “Lone Star Blues,” is a slice of slow-burn Texas-style pickin’, where he manages an unbelievably clear guitar tone, while scattin’ over the solo at the end.  The other instrumental, “Omar’s Boogie,” is another rockabilly raveup, which has a swamp feel akin to the best tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

The only song not written by Dykes is “I’m Mad Again,” a sinister take on an old nugget from John Lee Hooker, where he lives up to the Howler part of his band’s name – he really sounds pissed off on this one.  The album’s final cut borrows the rhythm from the Sun classic “Mystery Train” for “Take Me Back,” a look back on his childhood in Mississippi.

I’m Gone isn’t trailblazing – yet, it’s not meant to be.  Instead it’s a solid album from a rock n’ roll survivor.  –Tony Peters