Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears-Tell Em What Your Name Is

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This major-label debut from Austin-based retro soul man Black Joe Lewis is reminiscent of the ’60s R&B albums he so clearly adores, right down to its 30-minute playing time. Only one song breaks the four-minute barrier, with the rest at three and some just over two. Fans of the J. Geils Band’s initial handful of releases will recognize the same “nuthin’ but a house party” influences at work here, with perhaps less blues and more high-octane soul shouting. Lewis’ snappy guitar peppers these tunes, but it’s the eight-piece horn-enhanced Honeybears that provide the grease for these musical wheels. That’s especially true on the instrumental “Humpin’,” a succulent slice of Stax-styled funk. This is hardcore, raw, unvarnished music that aims straight for the pelvis. Throw James Brown, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett into a deep fryer and you’re close to Lewis’ knockout vocal attack. Jim Eno’s production stays hands-off, like it should be, letting this tightly knit ensemble do what it does naturally with no interference. This is so authentic that if slipped into a mix of likeminded ’60s R&B, only a handful would peg it as a 2009 release as opposed to one from four decades earlier. The band is as adept at laying down the steamy, slow funk stew of “I’m Broke” as it is the peppy call-and-response singalong “Big Booty Woman.” Based on that title and others such as “Master Sold My Baby” (an unusual deep Southern serving of R.L. Burnside/Junior Kimbrough blues), Lewis won’t win any awards from women’s rights organizations, but this music is so vibrant and uplifting that few will care. Fun, frisky, lascivious, and impossible to stay seated to, Black Joe Lewis has successfully tapped into a hip-shaking old-school groove that never seems forced and is completely contagious.

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