Omar & the Howlers,
Too Much is Not Enough
(Big Guitar, 2012)

Not too many albums have a "Disclaimer Inside" posted on the cover. Omar Kent Dykes, however, feels an obligation to explain why he's offering up a second tribute to late bluesman Jimmy Reed. The first, recorded with fellow Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, was the acclaimed On the Jimmy Reed Highway (reviewed in this space on 26 April 2008). Dykes's quasi-apology doesn't matter -- something about having accumulated a whole lot of Reed material he'd recorded over the years and wanting at last to get it out there - because Too Much is Not Enough is its own justification.

I've never heard anybody do Reed songs better than Dykes, in the present instance with his own rotating crew of Howlers, among them -- so prominently that his name follows "featuring" on that same cover -- the late harmonica genius Gary Primich. Omar & the Howlers have been recording for decades, not as just another white blues band but as one at once uniquely inventive and rooted in Dykes's vision of American vernacular music.

Though Reed himself died in 1976 (at 50, the victim of epilepsy and alcoholism), his recordings are still available. The Vee-Jay sides from his early career are worth seeking out in particular. Thus, the reason to listen to Too Much and Highway is simple: while honoring Reed's spirit, Dykes doesn't sound much like him. Too Much is an Omar & the Howlers record, which is as it should be.

Most immediately notable are Dykes's growly vocals, which have the effect of deepening the songs, bringing them (in combination with the Howlers' hard-edged approach) closer to the deep blues that Reed, though Mississippi-born, eschewed. Reed's lighter boogie sound had such crossover appeal to non-blues fans that his records occasionally appeared on the pop charts. Some critics have complained, not entirely wrongly in my opinion, that Reed in effect watered down the Delta music pioneered by Son House, Charlie Patton and others, including his contemporary Muddy Waters. I enjoy Reed well enough, but my blues tastes run to the harder stuff. Possibly that's why I tend to prefer hearing Dykes doing Reed than Reed doing Reed. So kill me.

Anyway, this is, as Omar & the Howlers albums are wont to be, satisfying, soulful and successful on all counts. In a footnote Dykes offers this: "If you think I've gone overboard with Jimmy Reed, just wait until I release my Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley material!" Yikes. I'm all ears.

music review by
Jerome Clark

12 January 2013

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