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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Black Oak Arkansas

Underdog Heroes

Review by Gary Hill

Black Oak Arkansas have always been a tough act to place into a box. They have never been willing to work within some pre-determined range of sounds. This brand new album (their first new studio release in decades) shows that is still true today. There are metal elements along with Southern rock, blues rock and much more. Classic BOA members Jim "Dandy" Mangrum (vocals) and Rickie Lee Reynolds (guitar) are leading BOA in the modern era. Mangrum's voice is an acquired taste for sure, but he's got a real passion and style that makes him unique. If you've ever been a fan of this band, you must check this album out. It keeps the traditions alive while also updating them.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at:

Track by Track Review
Don't Let It Show
Acoustic guitar opens this. It's a cover of one of my favorite Alan Parsons songs. Odd as it is, this ballad works well here. I dig the guitar solo on this thing. It brings a bit more of a rocking edge to the piece.
Underdog Heroes
More of a hard rocking, nearly metallic, edge drives this tune. It has a real gritty edge in terms of lyrics and delivery that lends a charm to it. There is some killer guitar soloing built into this beast, too. In fact, the extended instrumental section, with its real metal edge, is one of the best musical passages of the set. This gets a bit of a parental advisory. There is a weird, rather demonic sounding spoken bit late in the number.
Channeling Spirits
There is an almost proggy edge to the music on this mellower cut. It has a trippy kind of element. This is a tribute to a lot of the old music masters who are no longer with us, many of whom are name-checked here.
Ruby's Heartbreaker
I dig the rocking guitar sound on this slow moving piece. There is an extended spoken dedication on this. This cut is a variant on the old Grand Funk Railroad tune. I'm a big fan of that band, so this benefits from that connection as far as I'm concerned. There is a blues rock vibe to this. It's one of my favorites here. The smoking hot extended guitar soloing is purely on fire.
The Wrong Side of Midnight
A cool metallic edge is heard on this intriguing grind. There is a dark, evil, blues rock feeling to the piece.
The Devil's Daughter Feat. Sammy B. Seauphine
With a metal meets Southern bluesy rock edge, Sammy Seauphine's vocals are a nice touch. She really brings something special to this song. The powerhouse guitar work also elevates this. The cut is one of my favorites here, and a real screamer.
Arkansas Medicine Man
Wow! This has such a cool metallic Southern rock vibe to it. There is a mysterious, magical kind of vibe to the piece that really suits the lyrics. This is another highlight of the set. The guitar soloing on this is purely on fire.
Do Unto Others Feat. Shawn Lane
Another hard rocking groove is on the menu here. This has a 70s rock vibe, but with a bit more metallic edge. Shawn Lane delivers some guitar soloing. He's considered by many to be the fastest guitarist alive. He's seriously talented.
You Told Me You Loved Me
A hard-edged blues rocking vibe is the driving factor on this number. It's not a big surprise, but it's a solid tune.
Love 4 Rent
There is a "dirty old man" vibe to the start of this cut. The tune is a mellower piece at the start with bit of a down-home element. There is a real dark edge to this thing.  This thing fires up into harder rocking, metallic texture as it grows, but doesn't intensify in terms of the pace. It's a powerhouse tune. The jamming later is purely on fire with a classy blues rock texture.
The 12 Bar Blues
Starting acapella, the guitar arrangement brings a real metal edge to this beast. It's a powerhouse stomper that's very cool.
Johnnie Won't Be Good
A pretty typical rocker, there are some things about this that make me thin of Guns N' Roses just a bit.
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