I’ve never thought of Black Joe Lewis as a blues musician; his earlier releases were firmly entrenched in soul. But many reviews of the great new record from the Austin frontman (still leading the Honeybears, though they no longer go by that name) have couched the music in terms of the blues. And I can totally see that all over Electric Slave, an album that refuses to sit firmly in any one genre.
Last year, I criticized Gary Clark Jr for his genre-hopping across Blak and Blu, so it may seem incongruous for me to praise BJL for something similar. What Clark failed to do, though, was integrate his influences into one cohesive sound. He ended up delivering a hip-hop track, a neo-soul track, an adult contemporary track, and a bunch of other (great) songs that didn’t mesh well together.
Lewis, on the other hand, has fused his influences so coherently that it’s impossible to place this album in any one genre. The most striking example to me is “My Blood Ain’t Runnin’ Right,” which sounds like the long lost collaboration between Iggy Pop and Sly & the Family Stone. The guitars crunch around a lugubrious lead vocal from Lewis, while the horns soar above it all with a decidedly peppy melody. The result is mesmerizing.
And that isn’t the only example of Lewis’ effortless genre-blending. “The Hipster” can’t decide whether it’s a blues rave-up or soul-style Wall of Sound. “Young Girls” sounds like a classic glam record in the vein of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” until the chorus explodes into something that is heavy, energetic and wholly Lewis. It’s got enough guitars that it comfortably follows the Sabbath-style riff rock of opener “Skulldiggin” but is funky enough that it also makes sense on the same album as “Come to My Party” (the track that is most similar to the straightforward party-funk of Lewis’ previous records), with its Tower of Power horn lines.
You may notice that I’m name-checking quite a few 70’s influences when describing Electric Slave, and that’s no accident. Lewis is having his way with that decade across this record. He seems to have mined that any loose strand that excited him, and has compiled all the component parts into something that is influenced by the 70s but rarely derivative of them.
So yes, this is a blues record. But it’s a funk record, and a rock record, and a soul record, too. It’s timeless and genreless, and incredibly enjoyable. Another great record from one of Austin’s best.
– Carter Delloro