WITH THE success of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, record company A&R men are popping up in the sweaty beer joints of Texas and Louisiana in search of the very same rootsy acts they once dismissed as "bar bands." After nearly 10 years on the roadhouse circuit, veteran Austin blues-rockers, Omar and the Howlers, have been "discovered" and the result is their first major-label release, "Hard Times in the Land of Plenty." Though there is little especially new or distinctive in Omar Dyke's 10 originals or the band's musical attack, the group does speak the language of blues, boogie and rock 'n' roll as if it were their first and only.
Fans of early Creedence Clearwater Revival might find more than a little familiar in Omar's gravelly growl and the Howlers' swaggering swamp-rock on "Mr. Hoo Doo Man" and "Don't Rock Me the Wrong Way." The band's rock 'n' roll voodoo is obviously indebted to Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley and Creedence, and Omar's guitar work lives up to the tradition. He plays lots of big chords with a razor edge and rarely indulges in long, single-note solos. Like another Austin band, the Tail Gators, Omar and the Howlers don't define anything new but they do prove that experience and honesty can bring old stuff back to life.
Along with the blues, Texas has a strong polka tradition, a musical gift from the Germans, Czechs and Poles who helped settle the state. That tradition more than gets its due in "Polkatharsis," the latest effort from Brave Combo, a Texas quartet with a serious reputation as accomplished purveyors of ethnic dance music and a less serious one as the band that plays polka versions of Hendrix and Doors classics. This time it's polka for polka's sake -- and though "Polkatharsis" is full of high spirits and good humor, there's nothing tongue-in-cheek about Brave Combo's execution of the 11 polkas, two waltzes and one schottische here.
OMAR AND THE HOWLERS -- "Hard Times in the Land of Plenty" (Columbia BFC40815).
BRAVE COMBO -- "Polkatharsis" (Rounder 9009). Both appearing Saturday at the 9:30 Club.