CD Review: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears "Tell ’Em What Your Name Is”

Oklahoman Published: March 20, 2009
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R&B
(Lost Highway)

Austin, Texas-based soul man Black Joe Lewis sings like Wilson Pickett and James Brown in a shouting match, and if that weren’t enough, his backup R&B revue mates, the Honeybears, deliver the mean retro-funk better than anyone this side of Muscle Shoals, Ala.


Any doubts about the sincerity of this enterprise evaporate like sweat drops on a hot skillet when "Tell ’Em What Your Name Is” fires up and the opening track, "Gunpowder,” ignites. It’s all horns, nimble guitar riffs and rotgut nastiness.

After the manic rant-and-stomp dance party of "Gunpowder,” Lewis leads the Honeybears through the killer funk slider "Sugarfoot,” a riff-heavy monster nearly worthy of Brown at his late-1960s peak. Even when the band downshifts on the slow-burning "I’m Broke,” Lewis still delivers soul wailing that could give Screamin’ Jay Hawkins a scare. And Lewis’ wicked sense of humor runs through all 10 tracks, from "Sugarfoot” to "Bobby Booshay.”

Produced by Spoon’s Jim Eno and featuring the horn section from Grupo Fantasma, "Tell ’Em What Your Name Is” doesn’t attempt to replicate ’60s production styles. The stereo separation doesn’t have the ring of scratchy-vinyl authenticity that Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings achieve, but ultimately Lewis and the Honeybears’ strength is in the delivery, and "Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is” delivers.

George Lang