There are few things more thrilling than a large, horn-based R&B band locked tight and laying down monster grooves. This ain’t that. Austin’s BLACK JOE LEWIS AND THE HONEYBEARS have horns and play it funky, but they’re worlds away from the slick sounds of retro-soul practitioners like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Lewis isn’t much of a singer, his guitar playing is ham-fisted (though often incendiary), he likes his music loose, and he’s not so big on songcraft or, he says, rehearsing. Imagine the Stooges backing James Brown and you’ll have an idea of what the Honeybears sound like. Still, the band’s relentless touring has turned them into a powerhouse. Following the surprise success of their 2009 debut, Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!, SCANDALOUS (Lost Highway) will undoubtedly swell the ranks of their fan base. Produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno, who did the honors the first time around, the album boasts a sound that’s big, propulsive, and edgy, and the songs (in most cases little more than riffs) run the gamut, from an explosive Sly Stone–like tune, “You Been Lyin’” (featuring the Dallas band the Relatives), to funk workouts like “Livin’ in the Jungle” and “She’s So Scandalous.” But there’s something new here too: On tracks like “Jesus Take My Hand,” “I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “Messin’,” Lewis lets fly his love for down-and-dirty-blues artists like Junior Kimbrough, further confusing the issue of how to label his music. But no matter. Since the band never really lets up, you won’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.
From the March 2011 Issue Subscribe