There are many who aspire to do the esteemed Howling Wolf righteous but only a few who were born to actually do so, and Omar Dykes is most definitely among the latter, though he's also wise enough to know that no one can walk into the well-worn back-alley shoes of, in his own words, "the most muscular and ferocious singer who ever lived". To my mind, there's been only one cat who matched the power of Chester Arthur Burnett, but from the other side of the spectrum: Robert Plant ('n I'm gonna catch hell for this assertion, trust me) and his magnificent bird-on-the-wire work with Alexis Korner and in Led Zeppelin's first release (everything after that is highly arguable). There are many vocalists in between, but those two bad-asses form the parameters of consideration. Dykes, with that gruff, growly, bear-in-wolf's-clothing voice of his, receives many accolades, the most frequent of which is the Burnett similarity.
That he devoted an entire disc to Wolf's songs, though, is a rough-hewn blessing, and that he kept to an emphasis on the vocals magnifies that gift appreciably. However, don't fret over that aspect too much if you're a fan of the blues' various axes, as Dykes' equally backwoods guitar is quite nicely featured—just catch Little Red Rooser for affirmation of that—and he's ushered in a set of choice sidemen to bolster what's primarily a trio setting (Ronnie James on bass and Wes Starr on drums). Still, though, we're talking about one of the most influential modern vocalists, a delta genius whose work inspired not only cats like Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits but continues to mystify and intrigue all the later generations—though, interestingly, few of the X, Y, and Z singers have dared to even venture the terrain.
Well, Dykes is not what you'd call a 'shy guy', and it's his pronouncedly gravelly ebullience that adds full dimension to his work here and with the Howlers. As much as Cream may have beautifully and entrancingly psychedelicized Spoonful, Omar grabs the listener by the neck and ears, dragging one and all back to where the entire gig started while adding just the right amount of what Jeff Beck was doing back with Rod the Mod in the 60s (thanks in no small part to Derek O'Brien and his audacious lines throughout the disc), especially in cuts like Ooh Baby, Hold Me. Gentlemen listeners will groove on the dark gritty nightscapes and testosterone, but the ladies will be thinking "Oh that Omar, I just know he knows the nasty!", all of which is precisely what Howlin' Wolf was all about.
This disc, though, subtly emphasizes something that's not at first noticeable until you realize Dykes' guitar work is the equal of O'Brien's and the other guests (Caspar Rawls, Eve Monsees). Never a slouch on the six strings, there's something in this immersion in Burnett's work that squeezes out an extra degree of verve, and Derek would've had to break the neck off his guitar to outmatch Dykes. Watch for this as you listen; I think it just may surprise even his most ardent fans.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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