REVIEW: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Backlash

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have a new album coming out on February 10th, titled Backlash. They bring their own mélange of funky classic soul and R&B to venues all over the country this Spring, including SXSW. I ventured out for a mocha this morning and found myself shamelessly dancing at a communal table.

The opener, titled “Flash Eyed,” is bursting with mettle. The kind of mettle that bonds musicians from such distinct genres as soul, punk, and rap. “Flash Eyed” is full of the sort of impulse that gets you to pull on your sneakers at five in the morning and get out and live vivaciously. The song blasts the album to the forefront of the listener’s attention, in a melee of wild drums and guitar melodies. The horns feature appropriately in “Sexual Tension,” a rollicking track that, like a puppy excitedly tripping over itself, is enigmatically full of movement without going anywhere. This serves perfectly to capture the momentary essence of the song. The way Joe sings, “Here’s to you, girl” before backing off to let the horns do what they do best, is like catching a distant glimpse of dimples. The horns blend with the rhythm guitar like fondant drizzled over cookie just dry enough to crumble, just moist enough to ensure the crumbs are fluffy.

The first thing that “Global” grabs you with is that classic guitar. This is the sort of guitar that kept my eleven-year-old self glued to the stereo’s VU meters for the entirety of Are You Experienced? If there exist primal longings at the base of man’s relationship with electricity and the quest for a temporal label for things, then that guitar speaks to those longings. Then enter Joe’s vocals, delivered with the pressing urgency of someone with something very important to say, but with flourish enough that you never want to stop listening.

“Nature’s Natural” opens with irresistible guitar. And the irresistible guitar continues until just when you think guitar can’t get more irresistible, there it is, coming in loud and luscious through your earbuds. Vocalizations pregnant with emotion permeate the track, speaking of “nature’s natural destruction,” as the perfectly machined horns manipulate the air like an inorganic chemist manipulating matter to create fabric that can sustain life on Everest. Speaking of precarious, “Lips of a Loser” imparts the feeling of cascading from the heights of a towering cliff, in a gravity-powered game pitting the relative hardness of earth against the elasticity of your body. Making this death plunge toward the bottom, one has a decision to make: one can resign themselves to the lack of control over the situation; eventually you’ll get to the bottom and it will likely hurt quite a bit. Or you can choose to have fun with it. To take the opportunity to stabilize your footing on whatever surface you can find and surf down the mountain. Either way, you end up in the same place, but with one, the process is significantly more fun. Coming in at 6:05 with waves of sound and almost operatic instrumentation, “Lips of a Loser” give you more than enough opportunities to choose fun over desperation.

Listening to “PTP,” I could feel the hems of my jeans widening. As I looked around me, the surroundings suddenly took on the visage of a place just a little more funky. I felt the urge to make a wardrobe change to include more knits and turtlenecks. And I felt a responsibility to take care of people like generations before have taken care of me, in a wave of auditory social justice. “Freakin Out” effortlessly fits in with various genres. The vocals recall again the punk scene: wild dancing and poor lighting. Joe bounces through the lyrics, evoking all the fuzz – that deviation from the middle – that naturally accompanies any pursuit, adding season and color. “Freakin Out” captures everything that surrounds the present moment but does not define it.

Heavy on guitar and drums is “Shadow People.” The track revels in electricity, and spurs me to seek out information on the magic guitar pedals can achieve. Balls to the wall drums bring Meg White to mind. “Wasted,” takes on a slickly produced blues sound, layered with just enough rhythm guitar to keep the tears at bay. The trumpet sails above the rest at opportune moments (think Cake’s “Frank Sinatra” – although here, it seems more organic and less contrived), and the apparent chaos of sound – electric guitar, flute, drums… – imparts the message of the lyrics sublimely. “Because I’ve wasted all my good years loving you,” laments Joe. Notably, regret does not feature in the euphonious hullabaloo, as if Joe reflects on his “wasted” years as the shaping of a series of moments into something different than what might have been. What does feature, however, is Joe’s failure to grasp how the experience has changed him for the better. I know that flute has certainly changed me.

Black Joe and the Honeybears make prison sound like an okay place, if it’s worth it. The guitar takes the listener sailing to dizzying heights as the drums give it a riot grrrl sound (well, k’now, all the riot without the grrrl). “I don’t mind getting locked up,” Joe shouts over the guitar, ebullient and fervent. All the components of “Prison” come together to incite the listener to strive for greatness, even if that means spending a night locked up. After the safety pins in your wristbands fun of “Prison,” “Maroon” takes the album a little more lowkey. Slow, melodic guitars intertwine with the ebbs and flows of cymbals, with plenty of breaks for the trumpet to be heard, to create a track that lends one to introspection. “Maroon” provides the perfect track to listen to over and over again. I assure you, it won’t get tiresome. Meanwhile, Joe howls before ceding the stage to a truly glorious instrumental break featuring some majorly profound guitar playing in the horns and drums like porpoises in the wake of a ship’s bow. The confluence of nature and the best of electrical engineering can be pure beauty, and here, it is on display.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears give you plenty of reason to stay up past your bedtime. They inspire that “get up offa that thing” kind of motivation to put some movement into your life, no matter whether it takes you soaring to the heights of glory, or to prison. Go see them when they play your city. And please, just add them to your Music Library already.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears – Tour Schedule

Known for their can’t-miss, full-throttle live show, the 2017 North American headline tour, starts just after the release of Backlash.  The band hasn’t been on a major tour like this since 2013.  Be sure to catch them if they come to a town near you.  Add them to your music library and pre-order Backlash here and see full tour dates below.

02/14 Lafayette, LA – Blue Moon Saloon
02/15 Mobile, AL – The Merry Widow
02/16 Atlanta, GA – The Earl
02/17 Charleston, SC – Charleston Pourhouse
02/18 Charlotte, NC – Visulite Theatre
02/20 Richmond, VA – Strange Matter
02/21 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
02/22 New York, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
02/23 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
02/24 Boston, MA – Middle East Downstairs
02/25 Burlington, VT – Higher Ground Lounge
02/27 Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa
02/28 Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
03/02 Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
03/03 Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
03/04 Chicago, IL – Metro
03/06 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
03/07 Omaha, NE – The Waiting Room
03/08 Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads Saloon
03/29 Albuquerque, NM – Launchpad
03/30 Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom
04/01 San Diego, CA – Casbah
04/02 Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
04/04 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
04/06 Seattle, WA – Neumos
04/07 Vancouver, BC – Fortune Sound Club
04/08 Bellingham, WA – The Wild Buffalo
04/09 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
04/11 Boise, ID – Neurolux
04/12 Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
04/13 Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre
04/14 Taos, NM – Taos Mesa Brewing Company
04/15 El Paso, TX – Lowbrow Palace

Gwendolyn Lewis Written by: