TELL ‘EM WHAT YOUR NAME IS! – Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears (Lost Highway Records)
As the last rays of 2009’s sunshine desperately give way to shadows over the I-94 Bar’s beer garden, this monster of an album drops out of the sky and says: “Bite me”.
The reason this album has surfaced in Australia, of course, is that Black Joe Lewis has swept through here on a tour, and while fleeing the Big Smoke during the Sydney summer means I didn't get to see BJL and the Honeybears live it doesn't the record any less essential listening. If the band can whip up a similar storm in front of an audience as they do on this disc, they'd be quite an experience.
Austin-based Black Joe Lewis and his band of (mostly white) rocking R & B gypsies show more attitude in the first six bars of opening horns-driven strut “Gunpowder” than an Airbus full of washed-up American cruiserweight boxers heading Downunder for a quick payday ever could in a month of Sundays. The difference between these guys and recently-vanquished Roy Jones Jr is that one of the parties is blessed with cohones the size of bowling balls. Can you guess which one it may be?
“Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is” just doesn’t know its place. It bounces around from Memphis soul to New Orleans blues via the garage and back again with effortless ease. Pin medals on the chests of Mathew Strimska (drums) and Bill Stevenson (bass) if you can get them to sit still. The high performance engine room sets it all up for Joe Lewis’ stupendous vocals and ring-that-bell guitar. Sax and organ and whatever else is at hand fill the thing out.
It doesn’t much matter that the brother-arguing-with-his-woman lyrics are past a cliché, “Get Yo Shit” is nimble enough to groove on the head of a pin and punch brass through all the right places. The big swing of “Big Booty Woman” forges a link between feet, hips and ears that no medical textbook can explain. “Bobby Booshay” sure sounds like some funky ass mofo with a bubbling bass and sassy vocal hook struck up in his honour that are insanely good. As for “Boogie” – it just gets down in that groove and doesn’t come back.
Black Joe Lewis didn't invent this stuff but he sure adds a venomous sting. Production lacks that valve amp edge and rustic feel that the Daptone crew specialise in but don't let the contemperaneous take on the garage-soul sound deter you. This is fairly potent by any measure. - The Barman
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