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Ain't Life Grand
Black Oak Arkansas

Atco 111
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #145
Weeks Charted: 8

Jim Dandy MangrumBlack Oak Arkansas is a band historically given to wretched excess, but this album features smooth harmonies, clear guitar tones and any number of crisp, concise rockers. It is highlighted by a captivating rendition of the Beatles' "Taxman," an actual melodic ballad, "Love Can Be Found," and "Cryin' Shame," which is bright, bouncy and difficult to resist.

Difficult, but not impossible. Fanatic BOA followers may rest assured that the group's obnoxious elements still predominate. "Back Door Man" rubs fresh assault into feminist wounds, but it is so inane that it boils down to macho dude about nothing.

Black Oak Arkansas - Ain't Life Grand
Original album advertising art.
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Jim Dandy Mangrum's hokey hoodoo posturings place him in the Offensively Mannered Vocal Irritant Hall of Fame, which features such luminaries as David Clayton-Thomas, Leon Russell and Buddy Miles. His vocals still make Black Oak unlistenable for all but the most dedicated. Although producer Richard Podolor has concocted a clean and classy instrumental sound, the old adage about silk purses still holds.

- Ken Barnes, Rolling Stone, 7/31/75.

Bonus Reviews!

More of the same good old rock and roll from Jim Dandy and his friends. All tunes are group originals except the Beatles' "Taxman" and there is the usual raunchy BOA excitement generated on each cut. The group even experiments with some softer material here and it comes out very nicely. Black Oak Arkansas should score handily on all counts with this one. Best cuts: "Taxman," "Fancy Nancy," "Rebel," "Back Door Man," "Cryin' Shame."

- Billboard, 1975.

Further reading on
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Black Oak Arkansas Lyrics

Black Oak Arkansas Videos

Something's happened to Black Oak Arkansas and at this particular moment I haven't made up my mind if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Part of their "charm" was the incredible roughness of their music. There was never a bridled feeling to it. It was almost as if someone had taken an enormous amount of physical energy and captured it in a wind tunnel, then stuck a tiny pin hole in one end to get the air moving. It's always been fun to listen to the rotten production and the busy guitar tracks. It was kind of like seeing the band in concert.

Well, a gentleman named Richard Podolor has produced this new BOA album Ain't Life Grand and he's done the strangest thing to them; he's made them into a commercial sounding pop group. The rough edges have been smoothed out. You can hear every guitar like separately, every drum role, every note on the bass. There's so much clarity you can actually hear what Jim Dandy really sounds like, and this could be an enormous problem if you're not a solid Black Oak Arkansas fanatic. Listen to "Keep On." I never thought of Black Oak Arkansas as a tight harmony group, but surprise, here they are!

As usual all the material is pretty much the same. "Fancy Nancy" sounds like most of the material from the previous albums, as does "Back Door Man," a number the band has been performing on stage for awhile. But something has happened to the boys. They are like wild colts that have been broken and are now suitable for riding. And, as I said, I really can't make up my mind if this was such a wonderful idea.

This is the most palatable album Black Oak Arkansas have ever recorded. It may also be the least representative of what the band are capable of -- creating a sultry, sexy, "hot'n nasty" record and making you squirm at how raw and wild it is.

I've always said that Black Oak Arkansas make interesting but not very good records. Well, they've made a very tight, clean good record now... so when are they gonna get sloppy again?

- Janis Schact, Circus, 8/75.

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