Black Oak Arkansas – “Underdog Heroes”

Black Oak Arkansas – “Underdog Heroes” (Purple Pyramid Records)
Battle Helm Rating
‘..this song is dedicated to that lady with the red hair….and the perfect derrière..’ – well them words don’t come any finer than from the man who influenced Dave Lee Roth’s image and onstage performance – Jim ‘Dandy’ Mangrum, wild front man of Southern rock’s greatest legends, Black Oak Arkansas! Formed by Dandy and schoolmate Rickie Lee ‘Risky’/’Ricochet’ Reynolds back in the early 60s, these good ol’ boys soon ran foul of their neighbours, getting charged with grand larceny and having to skip to the hills of  rural Arkansas, living offa the land as they refined their blend of southern rock, gospel, country and blues influences. By the early 70s though, they were signed by none other than legendary Ahmet Ertegun, the boss of Atlantic Records, whose pen only touched 5 or 6 people in his whole life personally (!), and it didn’t take long before charting and gold albums saw BOA alongside Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Eagles, and even play the Albert Hall in London! In the early 80’s, Dandy temporarily left the band for health  reasons, but Rickie Lee kept it going over the years, retaining a cult following that takes us right up to “Underdog Heroes”, their first full length release with all new recordings in more than 30 years! Although now in their 70s, the bond between Dandy (who in his time has met Elvis, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan – and smoked weed with Bill Clinton!) and Rickie Lee (who’s played with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck) is still as true as it was back when they were kids, and resonates through the incredible music here that takes in the best of classic BOA (think early 70s “Raunch ‘N’ Roll Live” and “High On The Hog”) into modernity thanks to the sterling new talent of co-vocalist Sammy B. Seauphine and drummer Johnnie Bolin (brother of immortal Deep purple guitarist Tommy Bolin!). Between them they are simply smoking whether its on the moving gospel blues rock cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s ‘Heartbreaker’, dedicated to former vocalist Ruby Starr, who passed away in 1995, or the southern boogie rock of ‘Do Unto Others’,  a very special recording as it features the virtuoso guitar work of the late Shawn Lane, who joined BOA aged 14 (!) and today is regarded as one of the fastest guitar players in history. Elsewhere, the swamp rock n roll of ‘You Told Me You Loved Me’ resplendent with Dandy’s crooning soul and Rickie Lee’s wailing geetar is truly moving, and really comes into its own on ‘The 12 Bar Blues’, with the deep bass pumping in the groove as the dual vocals of Dandy and Seauphine bring in the whiskey soaked atmosphere as the southern licks and slide work truly show why BOA is still regarded around the world. Indeed, the magic between the vocalists really takes off on the sultry bar rock of ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ as Seauphine’s teasing lines ‘…like a blowjob from hell, but before I bite off your balls..’ matches her sultriness backed by Dandy’s deep drawls and Rickie Lee’s truly dexterous southern fretboard work. Far deeper though, is ‘Arkansas Medicine Man’ with its references to Native American legends like Geronimo and Crazy Horse who are once again brought to life through Dandy’s deep tones, Rickie Lee’s moving lead and Bolin’s tribal drums in an atmosphere that is nothing short of epic. Also available in a special limited edition gold vinyl pressing of 300 copies, “Underdog Heroes” is worth every ounce and in every sense true to its word.
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