After working hard to cultivate a dedicated fan base through a pair of blues-drenched, garage rock studio albums and tireless tours featuring one blistering live show after another, Austin, Texas’s Black Joe Lewis are unquestionably aiming for the fences on his third full-length release, Electric Slave.
While Lewis shed the familiar Honeybears from his band name, he’s still got a trusty and talented cast of characters surrounding him, and the same spirited, guitar-fueled energy continues to drive at the heart of these emphatic numbers. The songs occasionally have a bit more polish and overproduced sheen to them, but Lewis’ impassioned vocal delivery and frequently spellbinding guitar riffs are just as filthy and infectious as they have always been, just now they are festival tested, arena sized, and stadium ready.
The gritty, uproarious fuzz of opener “Skulldiggin” is reminiscent of the anthemic appeal of The Black Keys, just filtered through the sweaty club scenes of the southern circuit, with Lewis leading the charge with a lyrical call-to-arms atop a nasty guitar riff that only grows in potency as the song rumbles home. It catches the listener’s attention straight away, and makes it abundantly clear that Lewis isn’t messing around during his time in the spotlight. The rollicking “Young Girls” is a clear party-starter and has a basic, universal appeal, but it still sounds a bit meager and underdeveloped in comparison to the towering lead-off track.
“Dar Es Salaam” rights things in a hurry, as the swampy, distorted riffs wash out of the speakers/headphones in a rousing wave, and when the funky horns kick in, the track is well on its way to steamrolling right over you with its massive, undeniable hooks. Lewis indulges in his Stooges-sounding punk side on “My Blood Ain’t Running Right”, with his vocals echoing the plain spoken intensity of Lou Reed as the untamed arrangements build around him. Throughout the record, Lewis fluidly blends many disparate musical styles and tastes that haven’t been meshed together much in this modern era overly concerned with genre and labels, and for the most part the potent combinations work. The raw rock swing of “Guilty” sits comfortably next to the buoyant pop pulse of “Come To My Party”, which gives way to the moody, expansive blues of “Vampire”, with Lewis clearly exploring his broad influences and inspirations – as well as his record collection – at this point.
“Make Dat Money” is a bit meandering, and could have used some editing to find a taut focus instead of the loose, six-minute amble the track became. But yet again, the slight misstep is quickly righted on “The Hipster”, perhaps a stomping commentary on the newfound fans Lewis encounters at his increasingly sold-out run of live shows. According to Lewis, Electric Slave refers to, “what people are today with their faces buried in their iPhones and the only way to hold a conversation is through text. The next step is to plug it in to your damned head.” And perhaps “The Hipster” is a thinly-veiled reference to the audience full of fans watching his show through their cameras and Instagramming the entire gig instead of blissfully experiencing it in the moment. Either way, the track storms with the irresistible charm of Jake and Elwood – the notorious Blues Brothers – and kickstarts the album’s exhilarating home stretch.
The brass-laden punch of “Golem” keeps the strong second half going, before Lewis brings this particular party to an end with the vibrant boogie of “Mammas Queen”, a rousing testament to whatever gets us through the night and helps clear our hangovers in the morning. Black Joe Lewis is clearly still having fun and partying hard on this new batch of swaggering blues-rock stormers. And while his audiences have clearly grown as well as his reputation, Lewis still hopes that he can still forge that continued connection with his fans even though the stages and the stakes have gotten bigger. For if you don’t get distracted by the constant temptations of modern contrivances and social connectivity, and buy into these simple but striking songs that Lewis is selling on Electric Slave, then he’s got the cure for the modern ills and then some.