(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

CD review - Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is

Except for some of the language, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is could have easily come out in the early '70s. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears dig deep for a heavy retro soul vibe. The recording and mix take you back, too, with a full band/single take feel. Name your favorite classic soul band and you can probably hear a little bit of them in there. On the surface, the whole package screams, "Soul!". But on a closer listen, there's a bit more nuance from the mix of influences and there's a little something missing.

Most of the songs feature Joe whipping out his strongest James Brown impression with hints of Ike Turner. It's a decent impression, especially on songs like Sugarfoot, but he often slides into just slurring out his lines. The band is more schizophrenic. For the most part, they hold down a solid, horn-based soul funk -- something like the J.B.'s (James Brown's backing band) crossed with Booker T and the MGs. Several of the songs (Big Booty Woman, Master Sold My Baby) remind me of the Animals (e.g. We Gotta Get Out of This Place). On the bluesier numbers, like Please, Part Two, they channel Big Brother and the Holding Company

The album kicks off with Gunpowder, with a wicked blues intro sliding into a solid funk groove. The rhythm and tasteful guitar snippets sound like a very up-tempo G. Love. This leads perfectly into Sugarfoot. This is where the band shines. crossing a Superstition repeating riff with a solid James Brown declamatory funk. The bass rolls with that bouncy precision that Bootsy Collins always provided.

Another great funk blues groove is the instrumental, Humpin'. The horns are what make this work the most, although there's also some nice organ work. The instrumentation says Booker T, but it doesn't have Booker's looseness. Even so, it's a fun ride.

That describes this album, too. It's a lot of fun, especially the first couple of tracks. Without a doubt, Black Joe Lewis would burn down the house in a live show. Unfortunately, it's impossible to reach back and grab a moment in musical time. The songs we remember from back then are the gems that survived all this time. Tell 'Em tries to reach those heights and can't quite pull it off. They're all good musicians with a real love of '60s and '70s soul, but they're trying a little too hard. They're more like students of soul than masters. A few more albums down the road and they may develop a stronger voice.

So, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is isn't at the top of my rotation, but because of the energy and attitude, it's still in the mix. Sip a little Courvoisier (you deserve it) and shake it baby, one more time.

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