More of the same from Black Joe Lewis – and this is a good thing.
Daryl Easlea 2011
Texas-based Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears broke through in 2009 with their stunningly immediate debut Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, which teetered on the tightrope between pastiche and homage perfectly. Full of white-hot blues, funk, Stax-influenced horns and urgent, itchy vocals, it was one of that year’s nicest surprises. Above all, it was great fun.
So, how do you repeat this high concept? Reconvene the band, get the same producer (Jim Eno from Spoon) and do it all again, only this time, more so. Of course Scandalous is Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is part two, but that is no bad thing. Again, in little over 30 minutes in total, there is little room to breathe. After the briefest of fade-ins, Livin’ in the Jungle is an affectionate high-speed nod to Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle, with everything sounding very much business as usual. Horns blazing? Check. Impassioned, raging vocal? Check. Chiming rhythm guitar, check. Gang backing vocals? Yes, indeed. Booty City, with its breakdowns and party noises, is the album’s up-tempo killer blow. Similarly successful is You Been Lyin’, which strays into heavier territory and arrives complemented by The Relatives’ searing gospel-influenced vocal support.
Scandalous is best, though, on its slower material. I’m Gonna Leave You is a fabulously repetitive blues with horns that build to a crescendo. Messin’ sounds like an amalgamation of all the low-key acoustic numbers by The Rolling Stones on Exile on Main St. The understated menace of the title-track is especially effective. Bill Stevenson’s bass stalks Lewis’ vocal with great brass and frantic rhythm and lead guitars, while Eno’s dubby effects on the drums add additional mystery and depth. Lewis brings a ragged charm to the album’s solitary non-original, Ivory Joe Hunter’s Since I Met You Baby. It’s a cross between two of the well-covered track’s best versions, those by Jerry Lee Lewis and Solomon Burke.
If Scandalous is not as good as its predecessor, it is simply because the surprise element of Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is has gone. Glastonbury-goers: note that Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are playing this year. They’re the sort of band one stumbles across and then leaves 40 minutes later, nodding sagely, pretending they’ve known about them all along.