Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
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 track “So Scandalous” especially showcases the band’s strengths. This slinky yet tough tale about a tawdry woman combines a potent beat, soulful horns and rockin’ guitars to create a powerful, dramatic song. There’s drama of another kind in “Mustang Ranch,” a ribald, rowdy account of the band’s stop at the infamous Nevada brothel. Like “Master Sold My Baby” on Tell ‘Em, “Messin’” is old school country blues that feels from a bygone era while “You Been Lyin’” stands as a rousing Sly and the Family-style workout.
The thoroughly engaging Scandalous certainly satisfying one’s hunger for some stick-to-your-ribs rock ‘n’ soul music. The band, however, seems approaching a crossroads. They definitely demonstrate their skills at successfully reviving these retro sounds but they are still striving to find their own special voice. On “Since I Met You Baby,” for example, they interestingly infuse a slow-burning soul shouter with some mariachi-ish horns and stinging guitars solos. By moving out of the past, they hint at maybe where their future lays.