The Screamin' Cat

Omar And The Howlers

Provogue Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If there had been any justice in the world back in the '80s, blues growler Omar "Kent" Dykes would have been as big a star as Stevie Ray Vaughan. After all, Dykes and his band Omar And The Howlers came around at just the right time - namely, the revival of interest in Texas blues. But it was Vaughan who rose to the spotlight, while Dykes and crew, still enjoying some level of popularity, found themselves standing outside of the gates, waiting for their chance to get in and get noticed. (You may remember their hit "Hard Times In The Land Of Plenty" - pity the disc it was taken from is presently out of print.)

Omar And The Howlers have been churning out the blues for over 20 years now, and quite possibly no release of theirs proves that the band is worthy of that shot at stardom than their latest release my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Screamin' Cat. Sounding like a cross between Steppenwolf's John Kay, the late Wolfman Jack and alternative music legend Tom Waits, Dykes lays down a vocal that sounds like he's seen his share of the hard times, but he makes it so much fun to listen to that you'll want to get up and dance to these 12 songs.

While Dykes takes his turns on guitar, the real six-string attack comes from Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne - and he helps to kick the music into new levels. Yes, the deal is almost completely sealed thanks to Dykes's unique vocal style (which is totally appropriate for the rough-and-tumble style of blues he plays and sings), but it's the slide guitar and leads from Welbourne that make sure these songs will leave their mark on you.

"Radio Man" could well be a tribute to Wolfman Jack - on this one, Dykes sounds frighteningly similar to the deceased legend of broadcasting. Dykes carries over the imitations on "The Screamin' Cat," sounding a lot like Waits to the point where a fan of Waits might think you're listening to the man himself. "Bad Ol' Man" and "Snake Oil Doctor" have so much vocal charm to them thanks to Dykes that you almost forget the subject of the songs - who knew someone could like a sleazy salesman like the one on "Snake Oil Doctor"?

The contributions of drummer B.E. "Frosty" Smith and bassist Paul Junior (who shares four-string work with Welbourne) must be noted, for their efforts on The Screamin' Cat are just as essential. Without them laying down a solid rhythmic backbone, the efforts of Dykes and Welbourne might have been all for naught.

Tracks like "Automatic," "Girl's Got Rhythm" (not a cover of the AC/DC track), "Steady Rock" and "Party Girl" all suggest that the listener might not just be listening to the best work Omar And The Howlers have ever done, but an indictment against the scene which should have elevated them to superstardom over a decade ago. With any luck, The Screamin' Cat will be the first big step in righting a wrong which has been done to this band for so long. This disc might take some searching for, but it's worth every minute of your time.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Provogue Records, and is used for informational purposes only.