Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Scandalous

How I adore a band who avoids the dreaded sophomore slump! Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are back with a successful follow-up to the loud, bawdy blend of retro soul and garage rock of Tell ‘Em What Your Names Is. Set for release by Lost Highway Records on March 15th, Scandalous gives these brilliant musicians some new opportunities to show off their substantial skills.

“Livin’ In the Jungle” opens the album with the band’s signature “garage soul” sound, but “I’m Gonna Leave You” digs down into a classic blues style. This seeming homage to blues greats like Robert Johnson is even more apparent later in the bare bones “Messin.”

“Booty City” is as funky, fun and danceable as you’d expect. It’s “Black Snake,” however, that really kicks up the bass, the brass and the tempo. It’s more of everything, with some astounding guitar work toward the end.

The hilarious “Mustang Ranch” throws a little Western tap into the soul-rock mix, but this ain’t no country song. Joe’s wry talking blues narration drives this bizarre and comedic tale of the band’s visit to the titular Nevada brothel.

The standout track “You Been Lyin'” is the best, most exciting collaboration any album ever had. The quaking duet with “Dallas gospel funk band” The Relatives sounds like The Staples Singers and George Clinton jamming with The Darkness.

“Ballad of Jimmy Tanks” rumbles with retro brass and funk guitar. Joe’s garbled vocals sound more like Reverend Peyton and The Honeybears make almost as much noise as the Rev’s Big Damn Band. Despite their vastly different genres of choice, I’d love to hear the two high energy bands play together.

Don’t let the title fool you, “Jesus Took My Hand” is no hymn. The finale is much more Jimi Hendrix than gospel.

Overall, the songs on Scandalous aren’t quite as catchy and addictive as those on their debut, but the artistic quality of the songwriting and instrumentation may be even better this time around.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.



Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears Official Site

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears MySpace

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

It’s that time of year again! Following are my Top 15 Albums of 2009. As usual, I tried to balance the order of the list between what I personally perceive as artistic merit (quality of songwriting, vocals, and instrumentation) and basic listenability (how many times I played the album throughout the year). I’ve included some new commentary and brief quotes from the original reviews. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and in some cases download mp3s…

Muruch’s Top 15 Albums of 2009

15. Joshua James: Build Me This

…all dusty roads and sunsets buoyed by rock guitar and drum crashes that eventually give way to sprawling piano and mournful strings” – As his previous release did on 2008’s list, Joshua’s album pushed its way onto this list at the last minute. I suppose it’s the subtlety of his music that prevents it from being more prominent in my memory, but it wasn’t until I listened to the album again that I remembered its excellence.

14. Rykarda Parasol: For Blood and Wine

…noirish rock sound with lyrics that alternate between whiskey-splashed cabaret and blood-soaked Gothic poetry” – I haven’t had much time to get to know this new release, but it’s already a favorite. I hope more people pay attention to Rykarda’s unique talent.

13. Sharon Isbin: Journey to the New World

… elegant, Medieval chamber-folk instrumentals and haunting traditional vocal pieces ” – This was a surprise. My enjoyment of instrumental music has grown tremendously this year, but I usually place a higher value on vocals. But this lovely album has been one that I’ve returned to and enjoyed many times over the year.

12. Maura O’Connell: Naked With Friends

…Maura O’Connell’s unparalleled vocal power is beautifully displayed in her impressive new album” – This one was sabotaged by the amount of emotion Maura’s voice rips out of me. It’s a gorgeous album from beginning to end, I just have to be in a particular mood to listen to it.

11. Luminescent Orchestrii: Neptune’s Daughter

…filled to the brim with the kind of warped traditional Eastern European music that made me love Luminescent Orchestrii in the first place” – I really expected this to be #1 when I first reviewed it and the stand out tracks are absolutely stunning, but overall I don’t listen to it nearly as much as the albums below.

10. White Lies: To Lose My Life

…dark, catchy synth-rock with a slight retro Goth feel…think “Blue Monday” by New Order” – This ominously infectious little album worked its way up the list throughout the year. The title track in particular is one that echoes in my head long after the music has stopped.

9. The Decemberists: Hazards of Love

…The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album” – This magnificent concept album may be #1 when it comes to artistic merit, but it lacks the overall listenability of others on the list. Still, it’s one of the more impressive projects of the year.

8. Morrissey: Years of Refusal

…finally puts his pipes to good use over soaring rock arrangements” – I loved this album when I first reviewed it and put it on heavy rotation last winter, but hadn’t listened to it much since then. Playing it again made me wonder why I neglected it for so long. If albums have personalities, it has the strongest of the year.

7. Sonos: Sonosings

…whether humming in such hushed tones or belting to the rafters as in latter tracks, there’s an elegance to each note the sextet sings” – This was another release that faded in my memory until I dug it out again and rediscovered how wonderful it is. Now I love it even more than I did when I reviewed it. The duet with Sara Bareilles on “Gravity” is very moving, and their a cappella cover of “White Winter Hymnal” is one of the loveliest recordings I’ve ever heard.

6. Muse: The Resistance

…Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard” – The brilliance and complexity of Muse’s album still surprises me every time I listen to it. Not only do I love this album, but it’s the one that everyone I know immediately asks about when I play it.

5. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is

…the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins” – I’ve played this countless times and it’s probably the most fun listen of the year.

4. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Meet Rabbit

…marries foreboding metal guitar and militant drums to pretty piano and angelic backing vocals, reminding us of Gaba’s fondness for Iron Maiden” – The Top 4 albums on this list are pretty much interchangeable. This is probably the most unusual and creative album on my list. I’ve known Gaba for almost a decade now, and I was happy to see her popularity in Poland skyrocket this year. I think she’s going to be a huge international star someday.

3. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

…a breathtaking blend of militant beats and orchestral strings” – I loved this album from the beginning, but it also turned out to be a grower as repeated listens revealed even more layers to its beauty. It is definitely the most beautiful release of the year, but there are two albums I’ve listened to more…

2. Great Northern – Remind Me Where The Light Is

…Ominous instrumentation is barely restrained as Stolte’s sultry croon initially floats in” – If the order of this list was based solely on the number of times I’ve listened to an album this year, Great Northern would’ve been #1 by a landslide since I’ve played the album nearly every day since March. It may not be the innovative recording on this list, but it is certainly the most addictive. Only one man could keep it from the top spot…

1. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

…I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time” – The quote says it all. This album had an edge since it was based on my favorite book (Cat’s Cradle) and featured my favorite author (Vonnegut), but Soldier’s innovative compositions helped push it to the top of the list. If my imagination had a soundtrack, this would be it.

Mountain Stage: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

Though there were other artists booked for last night’s Mountain Stage concert, I went for one man: Black Joe Lewis. Well, one man and his seven bandmates.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are an eight-piece “garage-soul” ensemble from Austin, Texas. As I said when I reviewed their album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, their music is “the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins, rough edged with a very modern sense of humor and garage instrumentation.”

Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is will certainly be near if not on the top of my year end list, but not even such a brilliant recording can compare to what it was like seeing these guys perform live.

Actress turned singer and Judy Collins protégé Amy Speace opened the show. She’s a singer-songwriter of the Joan Baez or Dar Williams variety. I would say of the other non-Joe performers, I enjoyed her set the most.

The Proclaimers followed with heavily accented harmonies. The Scottish twins are best known for what they endearingly admitted was their only hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” The Benny & Joon theme closed their segment of the show. Their performance – which bordered on novelty – was tolerable for a short set, but would grate on my nerves for a full concert.

Contemporary classical group Cordis was a pleasant surprise. Featuring West Virginia native and electric cimbalom player Rick Grimes, the band mixes lovely chamber melodies and upbeat rock instrumentals.

And then they took the stage, all eight of ’em: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears. They immediately started blaring out songs from Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is, the highlights being “Sugarfoot” and “Bobby Booshay.” While the production of their studio album seems to emphasis the soul side of the band’s style more than the garage, it was the noisy rock of Joe’s guitar that was most apparent in the live show. The entire band was loud, energetic, and awesome. Young and old audience members alike were tappin’ their feet and bobbin’ their heads along with the beat.

Former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay was granted the final slot of the night. Hay was very personable between songs and his simple acoustic tunes sound much better live than on his studio albums, but such a low key set would’ve fit better at the beginning of the concert. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears unquestionably stole the show.

Sadly, Joe himself elected not to join in the group finale. But the horn section of The Honeybears returned to the stage with the other artists to cover The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Black Joe Lewis – Sugarfoot (audio stream)

Black Joe Lewis Live on Craig Ferguson (video)

Buy @ Amazon

Black Joe Lewis Official Site
Black Joe Lewis MySpace

Muruch Mt Stage Reviews

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!

Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! is the new full-length album by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, a brilliant eight-piece soul ensemble from Austin, Texas. I received an unrequested advance copy, but didn’t get around to listening to it until this week. Then much kicking of self ensued for having waited so long. Not since I first heard Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band have I felt so excited to hear such a strange ruckus blare from my stereo speakers. This one will most definitely be on my favorites list this year.

The individual songs on Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! are a little too similar to write a proper track-by-track album review here. But when the sound is this awesome, there is not such a pressing need for diversity.

The music of Black Joe Lewis is the kind of guttural, robust, bluesy soul of James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins, rough edged with a very modern sense of humor and garage instrumentation. It’s bombastic and fantastic!

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.

Black Joe Lewis – Sugarfoot (audio stream)

Black Joe Lewis Official Site
Black Joe Lewis MySpace

Buy @ Amazon

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!