Black Oak Arkansas – Underdog Heroes
Keeping the Faith*
This is a paradox of an album – not good/bad; I think it is damn good – but in the polished/raw qualities it relays: the polish of its production, and the rawness that is inherent in the bass-growl of Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum’s signature vocal, here foregrounded throughout and often echoed-up for sustaining effect. ‘To The Rescue’ indeed. There is often a talking pace to the delivery, as in the dirtiest walk of The Wrong Side of Midnight, like Beefheart on a tab of sass. Great vocal support from Sammy B. Seauphine.
Rickie Lee Reynolds and his excellent guitar playing also provides a significant anchor to this album’s success, for example superbly on opener Don’t Let it Show, as is the shredded lightning of a contribution from Shawn Lane [who passed in 2003] on Do Unto Others.
Another ‘narrative’ offering is third track Channeling Spirits paying talking homage to other musicians, and this is a sweetly resonant song intoning a lineage from a range of artists. Reynolds’ guitar work on this is a glorious overlay of lead.
Next Ruby’s Heartbreaker is written about former band member Ruby Starr, a hugely powerful vocalist in her own right, and this is a dynamite tribute, using wonderful catches from the chorus of Grand Funk Railroad’s Heartbreaker as well as Reynolds in Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel mode.
If you want it real dirty – so that’s hot ‘n’ nasty – check out The Devil’s Daughter with Seauphine featured on vocal. With lines such as like a blow job from hell, but boy I’ll bite off your balls it is the lyrical poetry of ‘don’t take this too seriously – just fucking enjoy’.
And I am. Nostalgic and nostalgia notwithstanding.
*Their second album, 1972’s Keep the Faith, is one of my life-long favourites.