Soul Serenade: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, “Scandalous”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

It’s a big week in Austin, and that city’s Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have done their hometown proud with a scintillating, soulful sophomore album.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears - ScandalousWith the annual SXSW Music Festival in full swing down in Austin, TX this week, it seems appropriate to feature an Austin-basedband in this week’s Soul Serenade. With immaculate timing, Lost Highway Records has just released the second album from Austin’s Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. It’s called Scandalous, and as the title indicates, it’s a scorcher.

Scandalous is a major step forward from the band’s raucous debut, 2009’s Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! A few of the rough edges have been smoothed out by producer Jim Eno (Spoon). Normally that is not something I would be happy about, particularly in this genre, which is best described as garage soul. In this case however, the changes have been about focusing the band’s intensity, improving the songwriting, and tightening the performance. Perhaps most notable is the growth of Joe Lewis as a vocalist. He has stepped up his game in a big way for this album.

Speaking of intensity, check out “You Been Lyin'” a song that blends guitar-rock intensity with an undeniable soul groove. Other album highlights include the rump shaker “Booty City,” the hard driving “Black Snake,” and a torrid cover of Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby.” The album clocks in at well under 40 minutes (extra points from me for keeping it short and to the point), and the pace doesn’t flag for an instant.

There are a number of retro soul progenitors around these days, and that serves to lift the heart of a classic soul music lover like me. Their styles range from the slick Motown updates of Raphael Saadiq, to the vocal group harmonies of The Revelations featuring Tre Williams. From the rhythm and blues-drenched intensity of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, to the raw, rock-tinged power of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. In fact, there hasn’t been a better time for this music since those long ago days when soul music ruled the earth.

If you’re fortunate enough to be in Austin for SXSW this week, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears will be making several appearances around town.

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