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Omar & The Howlers
Boogie Man
(Ruf Records)

Guitarist/vocalist Omar Dykes is a burly gent who possesses a look that stereotypically conveys a sense of ruggedness, befitting a seasoned blues-rock performer. Born up the road apiece in McComb, Miss., the artist eventually migrated to Austin, Texas, where he's cultivated a distinguished musical persona. Omar is also noted for his energized concert performances abroad. And with several highly regarded outings under his belt, the artist's latest endeavor should surely rank as one of his finest. Here he enjoys sympathetic backing from the late Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Double Trouble" rhythm section of drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, among others of note.

Armed with a gravel-voiced delivery and a set of potent lungs, Omar and his revved-up bandmates seemingly tear the studio walls down. Nevertheless, the band revels in a contemporary outlook, supported by a potpourri of slashing guitar lines and finger-snapping grooves. Throughout this luminously recorded affair, Omar minces blithely arranged country-blues motifs, hard rock passages, and tuneful themes with bone-crushing crunch chords and solid backbeats.

Omar tempers the flow via his Fats Domino-style vocal swagger and an easygoing gait on the enticingly melodic piece titled "Drowning in Love." Moreover, "Right There in the Rain" looms as a potential pop-rock hit, partly thanks to a catchy hook and Malcolm Welbourne's syrupy slide-guitar work. It's all about good cheer and a pointed sense of optimism. Omar's pumped-up blues/rock vernacular reaps additional dividends from the irrefutably, glistening audio processes. -- Glenn Astarita

 

Percy Mayfield
His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
(Rhino Handmade 7828)

Once in several blue moons comes a CD so exceptional that it makes you drop whatever you're doing, shelf all immediate plans, and burn the dinner. This amazing Percy Mayfield reissue is such a CD. A limited-edition release, it consists of two rare mid-1960s vinyl LPs, My Jug and I and Bought Blues (recorded on Ray Charles' Tangerine Imprint); a couple of random, unreleased tracks; and an early-70s Atlantic single produced by Johnny "Guitar" Watson.

Each track amplifies Mayfield's exceptional songwriting abilities, and his unique phrasing ties him to the material. Considered one of the greatest blues composers of all times, the late Mayfield is throughout obsessed with pain (We Both Must Cry"), loss ("Baby Please"), revenge ("You Don't Exist Anymore"), despair ("Stranger in My Own Home Town") and self destruction ("River's Invitation."). He was capable of selling songs such as "Cooking in Style" and "Maybe it's Because of Love," but his forte was writing highly personalized songs that mined the depths of his own personal misery.

This package includes fascinating liner notes by Bill Vera and rare photos. Note: This CD cannot be purchased in stores; it's only available via www.rhinohandmade.com. Only 2,500 copies have been pressed. -- Jeff Hannusch

 

Various Artists
Hot Women -- Women Singers From the Torrid Regions of the World
(Kein & Aber Records)

The great draw (literally) of this album is the involvement by the brilliant cartoonist R. Crumb, who rendered the exquisite cover illustration (as well as eight interior drawings) and picked the cuts from his vast collection of 78s. Indeed, some people might find this the best way to experience Crumb, to savor the beautiful craftsmanship he lavishes on musicians he loves, rather than on his often caustic sexual fantasies.

The liner notes, also by Crumb, run to more than 3,000 words. They're often informative, though Crumb honestly admits that he just doesn't have the months or years it would take to fully research the obscure women presented herein. Oddly, he stumbles on the most famous woman of the batch, the seminal Tex-Mex singer Lydia Mendoza, misspelling her name and saying, "I believe she died sometime in the 80s, but (I'm) not certain" (Mendoza is alive and living in Houston).

Of the two dozen cuts here, a handful are striking: a 1927 cut by La Nina de Los Peines (the Girl of the Combs): "Sevillanas No. 2," considered the greatest Flamenco singer of them all; an Algerian track that would make Paul Bowles shiver; and some sweet Hawaiian yodeling. In general it's interesting to hear what music-making was like in the l920s and '30s in places like Hindustan, Brazil and Vietnam; it's a good bet that most people haven't heard music this early from places this exotic. If this collection isn't a knockout, it's certainly better than, say, the average Putumayo release. The sound is superior, and hey, you can't beat that artwork. -- Tom McDermott

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