The second album from Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears is distilled goodness. Groovy in the most literal sense of the word (in that it actually propels you to, well, groove), it’s packed with big soul horns, blues walk-downs and an effortless aura of cool delivered by vocals dripping with devilish charm and sex appeal. The disc rises and falls beautifully, flowing seamlessly from the scorching (“Livin’ in the Jungle,” “Black Snake”) to James Brown–meets–Allman Brothers Southern rock–tinged numbers (“Ballad of Jimmy Tanks,” “Jesus Take My Hand”) and visceral, bass-heavy slow burns (“She’s So Scandalous,” “I’m Gonna Leave You”).
Lots of music critic jargon gets recycled when reviewing Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Words like “revivalist”, “retro” and “traditionalist” get used and reused so many times that the critics would single-handedly save the earth if these terms were, say, aluminum cans. And then there are the comparisons, of which there are many. James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Redding.
On their Lost Highway debut, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears did everything right. A standard rock quartet with an eight-piece horn section, they offered a high-energy meld of retro-soul, funk, and R&B that recalled variously the early J. Geils Band, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding with a Stax/Volt-influenced rhythm section.
The Austin garage soul band has a few tricks up its sleeve It would be easy for Black Joe Lewis to allow himself to become a novelty. The fact is, in a decade dominated by effects and autotune, a rough-and-tumble bluesman who howls away and plays three chords is a rarity. It’s why terms like “retro” and “throwback” got tossed around when Lewis and his group, the Honeybears, burst onto the scene in 2009 with Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!.
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.
Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears’ 2009 Lost Highway debut Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! delivered an eye-opening blast of vintage rock ‘n’ soul that drew upon Sixties influences like James Brown, Stax Records and Sly Stone. The band’s follow-up Scandalous might lack the debut’s element of surprise but it retains the band’s exuberant retro-rooted groove of fierce funk, gritty soul, country blues and roadhouse rock and roll. A blare of Stax-y horns and a funky guitar lick fuels the energetic opening track “Livin’ In The Jungle.” “Booty City” and “Black Snake” continue the dance party mood, and it’s easy to imagine how well these sweaty little numbers – both of which clock in under 3:05 on disc – in concert.
The odds against Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears making lightning strike twice were phenomenal. After all, 2009's hugely popular Lost Highway debut, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, sucker punched anyone in earshot, leaving blues-rock welts and a big, purple R&B bruise. Hurts so good. Scandalous proves the local soul man no one-hit wonder, punching and kicking it the old-school way.