Over the course of this week, we’re going to be reviewing new albums from some of the bigger Austin groups. Though Austin’s international ambassadors – Spoon – aren’t expected to release anything this year, it has still been a stellar few months for nationally recognized artists from our beloved city. We want to make sure that our hometown readers are up to speed on the latest from the pride of our city, and to expose our out-of-town readers to some of the Austin artists that they could pick up at their local record stores…if you still have any of those. First up, Black Joe Lewis.
We already featured a song of off Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears’ new album, Scandalous, with our Echotone article last week, since Lewis was such a prominent figure in that film. Scandalous was released two months ago to rave reviews around the country – in fact, the review from Pop Matters touches on just about everything I wanted to say about this stellar album. However, I think I can find a way to spill a bit more digital ink extolling its virtues.
The coolest part of Lewis’ sound is that so few contemporary artists are doing it. Sure, Sharon Jones is also part of the soul revival movement, but Lewis goes much grittier than Jones does. His soul doesn’t come from the Motown sound, but from the Southern Stax records, like Otis Redding, the Mar-Keys and Wilson Pickett. There are certainly other artists out there with similar sounds and styles (like the wonderful JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound), but Lewis ups the ante by not limiting himself to just old-school R&B. On “Messin’,” Lewis rolls with a blues riff straight from the 30s. “You Been Lyin'” seamlessly mixes gospel with rock (with a guest appearance from old-school Dallas-area gospel singers the Relatives). The semi-autobiographical “Mustang Ranch” is one of the best modern uses of spoken word I’ve heard, since it emanates directly from a mid-20th century blues tradition.Black Joe Lewis - She's So Scandalous
But Lewis and co. are still at their best when they draw from their soul/R&B roots, such as on “She’s So Scandalous” or “Booty City.” The horn section is used to particularly good effect to build and release tension. They sound great together, but are still able to bust out a well-timed rocking solo.
Frankly, the only moderately dour review they’ve received is from our own Austin Chronicle, which gave Scandalous a very reserved three stars out of five. We here at ovrld have yet to develop our own rating system for new albums – perhaps we never will – but I can tell I’d rate this album much higher than that. It lacks any single with the punch of their debut’s “Gunpowder” or “Big Booty Woman,” but it also stays strong until the end where Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! faded a bit down the stretch with “Bobby Booshay” and “Please Pt. Two.”
Do yourself a favor and grab a copy, and we’ll see you at the next show!