Black Joe Louis is still sweet
Dropping the Honeybears from the band’s name isn’t the only change for Black Joe Lewis on “Electric Slave.”
The album, released last month, has a harder, raw sound, more Black Keys-grit than James Brown soul-funk, although those elements still are an integral part of the group.
Frontman Joe Lewis said during a telephone interview that the band wanted to make a record that was more representative of its live sound
The band – Joe Lewis, lead guitar and vocals; Bill Stevenson, bass; Eduardo Torres, drums; Jason Frey and Joe Woullard, saxophones; and Derek Phelps, trumpet – started out working with producer John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, Okkervil River) in Dallas but, “I don’t think he was really into it that much,” Lewis said.
Three tracks from those sessions ended up on the final record, but most of it was done in the band’s home base of Austin, Texas, with Stuart Sikes, who has worked with White Stripes, Modest Mouse and Cat Power.
Black Joe Lewis has been a critic’s favorite since its 2009 performances at the SXSW music festival, where it caught the attention of writers from Spin, Esquire and other national publications. Appearances at most of the major music festivals – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Bumbershoot – only have expanded its reputation.
The horn section and funk influences make Black Joe Lewis stand out from other acts in that music mecca. Lewis said there are plenty of place to play and get noticed in Austin, but there’s also more competition.
“It makes you have to work a little bit harder.”
After releasing its first two albums, “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is” and “Scandalous,” on Lost Highway, “Electric Slave” is the band’s first album for Vagrant Records. The band completed the album before it sought a new record deal so it could be finished without any label interference.
As for the name change, Lewis said it had nothing to do with the departure of former cohort Zach Ernst.
“We’ve been trying to do that for awhile,” Lewis said. “The name stuck. It was a joke. We were putting out a new record. Why not change it?”
The album cover for “Electric Slave” has the band dresses in western garb and standing on a bluff. Lewis said there was no special significance to the imagery.
“I’ve always been a fan of spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood. I thought it would be cool to dress up like cowboys and take a picture.”