Southern Rock legends Black Oak Arkansas are back with their first studio album of all original material in over 30 years (if you don't count 2013's Back Thar N' Over Yonder, which had 5 new songs mixed with some older, unreleased material), titled Underdog Heroes for Purple Pyramid Records. In 2019 the band consists of founders Jim 'Dandy' Mangrum (vocals, acoustic guitar, washboard) and Rickie Lee Reynolds (guitars, keyboards, bass) along with Samantha Barnes Seauphine (vocals, washboard), Lonnie Hammer (drums), Billy Little (bass), and Randall X. Rawlings (lead guitar).
Underdog Heroes is surprisingly much stronger than I anticipated, the bands unique blend of raunchy Southern Rock, blues and folk in fine form throughout these dozen tracks. Jim Dandy's trademark raspy drawl is ever present as always, but he's paired up here with the lovely Samantha Barnes Seauphine, who co-sings many of the tunes on the album and adds a totally new element to the bands sound with her sassy, sultry delivery. The two work well off each other on the bluesy "The Wrong Side of Midnight", "Underdog Heroes", and their different take on Grand Funk Railroad's "Ruby's Heartbreaker". Sam gets to take the lead on the rocking "The Devil's Daughter", a nasty slice of vicious Southern Rock with some snarling vocals and gritty guitar work. "Channeling Spirits" is an interesting track, as the band pay homage to all the fallen rock stars over the years, Jim mentioned just about everyone within the confines of the song. Rawlings and Reynolds provide for some heavy rock firepower on the heavy "Arkansas Medicine Man", a song littered with tasty riffing and blistering lead guitar, while "Do Unto Others" is an archival track that features the late, great guitar hero Shawn Lane and his speed of light lead guitar, soloing like mad over an uptempo boogie arrangement. The band toss in another cover tune, this one Tommy Bolin's bluesy "You Told Me That You Loved Me", complete with some stellar lead guitar from Rawlings, and this is followed by the swampy blues number "Love 4 Rent". Speaking of blues, the BOA boys dive into some booze soaked jamming on "The 12 Bar Blues", a fun rave-up featuring some spirited vocals from Jim & Sam, as well as plenty of sizzling lead guitars. The album closes with the fun rocker "Johnnie Won't Be Good", a cool little homage to Chuck Berry.
Having seen Black Oak Arkansas live in recent years, you get the feeling that the band are still having a blast playing music they love, and that comes across here on this new studio album Underdog Heroes. This is a strong line-up that provides some strong musical performances, with the iconic Jim Dandy still doing what he does best...let's face it, there's no one like him. Don't miss this one.
01. Don't Let It Show
02. Underdog Heroes
03. Channeling Spirits
04. Ruby's Heartbreaker
05. The Wrong Side Of Midnight
06. The Devil's Daughter (feat. Sammy B. Seauphine)
07. Arkansas Medicine Man
08. Do Unto Others (feat. Shawn Lane)
09. You Told Me You Loved Me
10. Love 4 Rent
11. The 12 Bar Blues
12. Johnnie Won't Be Good