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!. But Lewis has always been more than a one-trick pony, and it’s never been more apparent than on his sophomore album, Scandalous.
Sure, he’s got the hard-living, woman-chasing schtick down pat: On “Mustang Ranch” he recounts the time he visited a brothel and paid $20 to get his (ahem) “ham glazed.” “Booty City” is a rollicking good time, and let’s just say “Black Snake” is not about a reptile. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear funky background vocals, tales of true heartbreak and even a love song amidst all the scandal.
The group manages to blend its influences so effectively that songs with full horn sections somehow sound stripped-down, and it’s clear that Scandalous is a stronger record than Tell ‘Em. Lewis, who didn’t pick up a guitar until age 20, demonstrates his growing musical prowess, the Honeybears sound tighter, and perhaps most importantly, the album never falls victim to gimmicks. Scandalous isn’t a throwback, it’s a throw forward.