Impassioned Blues at its Finest
The weird and wonderful city of Austin is a breeding ground for prolific guitarists. At one end of the spectrum sits the almost straight-laced blues groove of Gary Clark Jr., whose guitar sorcery is likened to Jimi Hendrix (though this man can also sing; sorry, Jimi) and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Hop on a river boat and let the sweltering delirium of Mississippi river blues take over, and you’re headed straight to the other end of the spectrum with Black Joe Lewis. On his latest endeavor, Electric Slave, Lewis is explicit in his neo-Luddite sentiments. Traditional blues themes intermingle with what the guitarist likens to a general addiction to technology that brings as many curses as it does benefits. Maybe it’s a response to the fast-changing tech landscape of Austin but Electric Slave is an impassioned album and a damn good one at that.
Though Lewis’ backing band, the Honeybears, are nary seen nor heard, horns and percussion still run rampant through Lewis’ signature guitar licks at a frenetic pace that hits its peak at “Vampire.” The almost seven minute long track is quintessential Lewis: frantic wails and choppy guitars that challenge each growl of a horn and thump of a cymbal to a grueling duel. Once the chorus kicks into high gear, Lewis delivers an aural slam of guitar and vocals that stop you dead in your tracks. The impact may not completely get his message across but you’d be hard-pressed to send a text message or check your Facebook during the outro chants of “fuck that shit!” on “The Hipster.”
Black Joe Lewis has completely hit his stride by the time “Make Dat Money” rolls through the latter half of the album. Lewis’ fuzzed out vocals are everything the Black Keys wish their megaphone trickery and faux blues wails could accomplish. It’s visceral stuff, as blues at its purest tends to be. Not to say that Black Joe Lewis has made a recursive album to only honor his idols and keep the genre a stagnant throwback. Electric Slave is far from throwaway background music. There are as many tinges of Howlin’ Wolf as there are contemporary breakdowns a la equally eclectic outfits like fellow southern rockers The Revivalists and indie superstars Modest Mouse. If this LP is any indication, the future is bright for Lewis whether he moves forward without the Honeybears or brings them on for the ride.