Black Joe Lewis
Electric Slave (Vagrant Records)
Reviewed by Chase Hoffberger, Fri., Aug. 30, 2013
What a difference two years makes. Since the March 2011 release of second LP Scandalous, local lightning rod Joe Lewis has moved to Montreal and bounced back; split with funk brother, guitarist, and bandleader Zach Ernst; and ditched backing band name the Honeybears from all branding. In its place: Black Joe Lewis, the long-adopted moniker of a shouter whose Red River roots extend many years back beyond 2009 Honeybears breakout Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! Strapped with a Hard Proof horn section (saxophonists Jason Frey and Joe Woullard, trumpeter Derek Phelps), longtime bassist Bill Stevenson, drummer Eduardo Torres, and producer Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Cat Power), Lewis trips third disc Electric Slave back to the garage-punk days of Black Joe Lewis & the Cold Breeze, opening with wildly distorted howler "Skulldiggin," the album's lead single. Its lyrics register undecipherable, like Lewis fed them through a summer thunderstorm. Second track "Young Girls" boogies down the same double-time path as Tell 'Em highlight "Sugarfoot" and Scandalous counterpart "Mustang Ranch," though there and elsewhere ("Guilty," "Golem," "Mammas Queen"), there's a winning recklessness to Lewis' style that rarely infused earlier work. What was once tight arrangements flowing through sections and pieces (2009's "I'm Broke," 2011's "She's So Scandalous"), here becomes a vehicle for Lewis and troupe to go nuts. Only the radio ready "Come to My Party," with its disco funk bassline and bleeding horns, maintains any deep semblance to the Honeybears' tighter, Meters-inflected funk. The rest evokes true grime: the Stooges scooping "My Blood Ain't Runnin' Right," the grungy, low-end rise and fall of "Dar es Salaam," and juke joint blues slinking around "Vampire." Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.