Omar & the Howlers – The Kitchen Sink (review)

Omar & the Howlers – The Kitchen Sink (Big Guitar records) review

Texas roots rockers throw everything in the mix

2014 was a particularly emotional year for Omar Dykes of Omar & the Howlers. He lost four dear friends who all played a part in his music career: the head of his fan club, a drummer in his band, a DJ who had interviewed him many times, and the owner of a record label. In dealing with the loss, Dykes chose to take comfort in what he does best – making music. The result is one of the finest albums he’s ever released.

The album is called The Kitchen Sink because it’s got everything in it (including a picture of a sink as the album’s cover!). The first six tracks are newly-recorded songs, which run the gamut from straight blues, to western swing, to country and even gospel. The second half takes a trip down memory lane, unearthing some studio and live tracks from his archives.

The disc leads off with “That Ain’t It,” a gritty, Freddie King-inspired slice of Texas blues shuffle with Dykes in fine voice. That’s followed by the gentle “The Battle Rages On,” highlighted by the excellent pedal steel playing of Casper Rawls. The slow blues of “Fire and Gasoline” features some killer guitar licks. Then things take a left turn for “I’ll Keep on Dreamin’,” a western swing number with fiddle courtesy of Danny Levin. The country rock of “Dixie’s All Night Bar” chronicles the tale of a trucker meeting a waitress and falling in love – it sure sounds autobiographical. The song has a long fade out where Dykes at the end screams “help, I’m frozen in time”!

The second half of the record delves into the past, many of the tracks featuring drummer Gene Brandon, who is one of his recently departed colleagues. The energetic “Cutie Named Judy” proves why his band was named “The Howlers” – the band rocks while Omar growls over top. He does a pair of Elmore James’ tunes – the live “Dust My Broom” spotlights some smokin’ slide guitar, while “Can’t Hold Out” has a great sax solo. Dykes is never too far from his idol Bo Diddley, and here he does a live rendition of “Who Do You Love” that really cooks. “Hello Operator” is an interesting listen, it sounds very early in his career. The entire record closes with the gospel-drenched “Climb on Board” – whever we experience pain, we need to lean on our spirituality.

Rough times tend to bring out the best in our creativity. We grieve for Omar over the loss of his pals, but the resulting album is cause for celebration. –Tony Peters