BLACK OAK ARKANSAS – Underdog Heroes

Purple Pyramid 2019

Keeping the faith, the Wonder State warriors return to the fray – different yet defiant.

BLACK OAK ARKANSAS –
Underdog Heroes

It’s been forty-odd years since BOA released their last studio album under the band’s full name. The world has changed during this period – and so have the group. “Underdog Heroes” doesn’t describe the ensemble, but there’s gloom now instead of erstwhile swagger, and although Jim Dandy is still prone to mythologizing himself in a song, their usual entertainment factor feels severely limited here. The same goes for the vocal range applied to the dozen pieces on display which, more often than not, are unjustifiably long. The familiar voice may be worn now, yet getting old can’t explain the collective’s frequent reliance on spoken word – with “Channeling Spirits” offering a list of deceased musicians, from Otis Redding to Chester Bennington, and stressing Ruby Starr’s name – so the pun of “The 12 Bar Blues” must sum up the amplitude of the veterans’ current creativity.

Yet shift expectations out of focus, and such cuts as “Arkansas Medicine Man” start tapping into the prairie spirit of yore, where Rickie Lee Reynolds-directed rhythms keep excitement on a roll, while opener “Don’t Let It Show” challenges aging and nostalgia with a soaring guitar solo courtesy of David Flexer, before the late Shawn Lane’s six strings drive “Do Unto Others” to rock heaven. Starr, another fallen hero, who performed with BOA in their halcyon days, has her own homage on the album, “Ruby’s Heartbreaker” – a vibrant cover of GRAND FUNK’s ballad, prefaced with the mention of her perfect derriere – but Sammy B. Seauphine, who takes “The Devil’s Daughter” to a sexual edge, is the singer’s worthy successor and a great duet partner to Dandy. Jim will shine on the slide-caressed, acoustically tinctured “Love 4 Rent” – only his trademark cynicism wouldn’t produce a smile within the album’s context.

“It’s a sin to forget the unforgettable,” he’s stating earlier. Sadly, the same can be said of the group’s past this record, for all its fine moments, hardly lives up to.

***

August 17, 2019

Category(s): Reviews
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