Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

November 17, 2011 at 8:52 AM

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears' throwback Texas R&B

Posted by Andrew Matson

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"Since I Met You Baby" by Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

Black Joe Lewis answers the phone in the middle of a pleasantly humdrum, quintessentially Austin, Texas, situation.

"My friend has an amp shop here in town where I hang out at most of the time during the day, called Austin Amplifier," he says in his slow, tenor voice, pronouncing the last word "amp-li-fah-er," sounding like he has no schedule whatsoever.

"We sit around and listen to a lot of CCR," he explains, referring to classic California roots rockers Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Lewis lives and breathes music, hanging out and listening to records at the amp store all day, rehearsing there at night with his old-school rock 'n' roll septet, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, which plays the Neptune Friday. Their music is a cathartic racket that takes rock back to the '50s and '60s, to country and R&B.

"I wouldn't say we're not-modern," he says. "We're modern. But I started out doing roots music, playing 12-bar blues — and then just progressed and got better."

Lewis isn't dissatisfied with modern times. But he is trying to bring R&B back to a more raw place. He's ambivalent about the ongoing throwback soul movement he has been lumped into — Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Raphael Saadiq, Charles Bradley — which we see locally in acts such as Allen Stone and Pickwick.

"A lot of times I feel like, why not just listen to the old stuff?" he says.

Lewis and the Honeybears' 2011 album, "Scandalous" (Lost Highway), has very few moments when you wonder that. It's easy to get caught up in the emotional wallop of the band's brilliant, battered take on "Since I Met You Baby," originally written by Ivory Joe Hunter in 1956 and played on "Scandalous" in the style of Tejano legend Freddie Fender, known for his '70s version. The "Scandalous" version is a roughed-up rock ballad that splits wide open when the horns come in.

"Derek, our trumpet player, really made that song stand out, to me," says Lewis. "He did some cool, Latin-sounding trumpet parts."

Lewis doesn't know if they'll play "Since I Met You Baby" in Seattle — his concert set lists change all the time — but confirms his band is better live than recorded.

"I actually just bought a new amp," he says, sounding excited about that. "I'll be playing it in Seattle."

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