After hearing just one verse of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears’ “Gunpowder,” from their debut EP released earlier this year, I was hooked. The Austin-based outfit somehow managed to encapsulate in one song all of the funky attitude of James Brown and the raw, rock `n’ roll of late ’60s Rolling Stones into one kickass package. On the EP’s other three songs, however, Lewis packed in some Southern soul balladry, talking blues and more muscular R&B to round out a pretty damn impressive package. Of course, that was merely a tease for the incredible album to come.
Tell `Em What Your Name Is, Black Joe Lewis’ full-length debut, is a sweaty, summer barbecue soundtrack, exploding with energy and packed with flavor. Produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno, Tell `Em has just the slightest bit of his band’s ultra-cool rock sound, but Lewis draws more heavily on a meaty Stax soul stew. Each song bursts with a hard-to-beat combination of big, brassy horns, fiery Hammond organ, distorted guitars and Lewis’ own manic wail. If that’s not a guaranteed combination for a drunken, booty shakin’ good time, I don’t know what is.
Two tracks from Lewis’ first EP—the incredible “Gunpowder” and “Master Sold My Baby”—made their way on to the album, and with good reason. As much as I love “Bitch I Love You,” those two are the definite standouts. Nonetheless, they’re in good company with the remaining eight tracks on Tell `Em What Your Name Is. “Sugarfoot” grooves along a walking bassline and some super funky clavinet, and “I’m Broke” jams on a fantastic piano hook while Lewis turns its title into a rallying cry. “Big Booty Woman” is a bit more psychedelic garage rock than funk or R&B, yet nonetheless fits in perfectly alongside its brethren, maintaining a deep, bluesy sound. “Boogie” rocks sufficiently hard, as does “Get Yo Shit.” And “Bobby Booshay” boasts some of the album’s most kickass guitar and organ riffs.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears bring to mind a lot of things simultaneously—classic ’60s garage rock, the golden age of Southern soul—but in their un-traditional combination of traditional sounds, they create something fresh, and somewhat rare in an increasingly digital age. Tell `Em What Your Name Is is a hell of a debut, and hard not to want to bust a move to, spontaneously. Put this album on at your next backyard `cue, and your guests may never want to leave.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.