Omar Dykes clearly possesses a deep-seated passion for the rumbling joys of old Howlin’ Wolf records — both his gruff howl, and the work of his flinty guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Luckily, he doesn’t let that passion turn into mimicry.
Instead, Dykes replicates the thunderclap attitude and rangy sexuality of those timeless Chess sides, but in his own inimitable way. After all, as leader of those Austin, Texas, firebrands Omar and the Howlers, Dykes has his own well-established persona through which to filter these brilliant narratives.
It’s a wonder to behold as Dykes, who is returning to Provogue Records for this July 9, 2013 release after spending most of the 1990s with the label, breathes smoke and fire into 14 tunes associated with Howlin’ Wolf — and one new original, the album’s title cut. Interestingly, Dykes includes well-known favorites like “Killing Floor,” “Spoonful” and “Smokestack Lightning,” but also a series of deep cuts that give Dykes and a group that includes guitarist Derek O’Brien and bassist Ronnie James a chance to cut loose.
And cut loose they most certainly do on gutteral groovers like “Howlin’ for My Baby,” the shotgun shack-rattling boogie of “Ooh Baby, Hold Me” and tough urban blues numbers including “Worried All the Time.”
With a voice that sounds like he gargled with roofing nails, Dykes has, of course, always labored under comparisons with Howlin’ Wolf. That might have led some to expect a more faithful hewing to the classics — and only the classics — on Runnin’ with the Wolf. Instead, Dykes forcefully places his own stamp on the proceedings, even while paying tribute to a towering figure in the blues.