Best of ’11: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

Black Joe Lewis and the HoneybearsThe Best Songs You (Maybe) Didn’t Hear 2011
Track 5: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, “Booty City”

I said this about Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears back in March and it’s still true:

“After sharing a tune from their debut album with my friend Paul, he nicely summed up their sound as ‘Screaming Jay Hawkins meets Stax records.’ They pack more funk, soul, and blues into one single than most bands squeeze into a whole album.”

Joe’s sound is equal parts Robert Johnson and James Brown: deep delta blues stirred up with with sweaty funk and soul. And those horns! Damn, son. “Booty City” was a favorite of mine all year long — here’s why:

Rethinking Music with 8in8, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, and Julia Easterlin

What do you get when you lock 3 musicians and 1 author in a recording studio for 12 hours? Nighty Night, a sharp collection of 6 songs, churned out by Amanda Palmer, Ben Folds, Damian Kulash of Ok Go, and Neil Gaiman, which was debuted on the stage of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston last night as part of the Rethink Music conference. I was lucky enough to see the performance, and was floored by everything I heard. It pays to know a guy, you know?

Julia EasterlinThe evening started with a 2-song set by Julia Easterlin, a soon-to-be Berklee graduate & upcoming Lollapalooza performer, who performed accompanied only by a loop pedal. She used the box to sample, loop, and layer her voice, creating a complicated, beautiful, building sound. I’ve seen KT Tunstall use something similar in concert before (she called it her “little bastard”), but it was nowhere near this level of sophistication. Imagine Björk’s Medulla album rendered live, and you’ll begin to get the picture. I tracked down her MySpace page and listened to some studio creations, but they don’t compare well to the live experience: there’s something magical in that there loop pedal. Keep your eyes and ears on her: she’s performing locally in Boston through May, and then at Lollapalooza in Chicago in August. Head to her website for a free song download.

Black Joe Lewis and the HoneybearsNext up was a frenetic shot of Stax and blues from Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, who blew the doors off the joint. Opening up with a vital rendition of the Robert Johnson classic “Stop Breakin’ Down,” they spent the next half hour burning through James-Brown-meets-Muddy-Waters songs mostly from their excellent new album Scandalous. The saucy call-and-response of “Booty City” was a highlight, as was the heavy stomp of “You Been Lyin’,” but the band was a total revelation: the rhythm section was tight, the horns were consistently funky (their almost-coordinated dance moves were good fun, too), and Lewis’ guitar playing was out of control, displaying surprising dexterity and ferocity, at one point playing it with his teeth. The venue sadly had too many seats bolted to the floor: this is a band that demands to be seen in some sweaty club somewhere. Can’t wait for their next trip through town. Head to Amazon MP3 to download the deluxe version of Scandalous, which includes that great cover of “Stop Breakin’ Down.”

Amanda Palmer, Damian Kulash, Ben Folds and Neil Gaiman, a.k.a. the band / via amandapalmer.netThen it was time for the main event: Palmer, Folds, Kulash, and Gaiman (“the band,” as Palmer put it) took the stage in very good humor but in a near-delirious state thanks to the hectic songwriting/recording schedule of the preceding 24 hours. Their intent was to record 8 songs in 8 hours, hence 8in8, but as that became unrealistic, they settled for 6 songs in 12 hours: still a very respectable output. After a single solo number from each of them, including Gaiman reading his back cover prose from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer? album over the melody/rhythm of Folds’ “You Don’t Know Me” from Way To Normal and a performance by Palmer and 17-yr-old piano wunderkind Tristan Allen, the band got down to business: a slightly weary but very good-humored runthrough of 5 of the 6 completed songs from the resulting album, Nighty Night.

8in8, Nighty NightThe results were unsurprisingly great: “Nikola Tesla” has one of the most clever choruses I’ve ever heard (“Nikola Tesla/I wish you’d invent a/current that could activate my heart”), Folds added reliable dashes of silliness and maudlin to the Mockingbird Song-esque “Because the Origami,” and Gaiman even took the mic to provide an appropriately British voice to the Joan-of-Arc-themed march “The Trouble With Saints,” but the real standout of the evening was the Kulash-fronted “One Tiny Thing,” with its dark, spare arrangement (it recalls Ok Go’s “Hello My Treacherous Friends” in a very good way) and heartbreaking poetry about the end of a relationship: it’s a hell of a song, and it could/should be released as a single. Stream it below:

Head to Amanda Palmer’s Bandcamp page to download 8in8’s Nighty Night: the minimum donation is $1 to download the all 6 songs, and for the first 2 weeks of release, all proceeds are going to Berklee City Music Network, “a charity which provides kids with every opportunity to see their musical potential.” It’s great music, a good cause, and the price is right: do it!

Worth a listen: Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, Noah & The Whale, The Chemical Brothers

If you’re looking for something new to listen to this week, definitely start with Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears’ Scandalous: it’s a vital collection of blues, dirty funk, and soul that’ll have your head bobbin’ in no time. I directed you to “Booty City” yesterday, and because for some reason the band is not in much of a sharing mood (only minute-long promos with tastes of songs released via their YouTube channel? hard to sell an album just on song samples anymore, guys), I re-embed it here. Loads of fun and Amazon MP3 is selling the deluxe version of Scandalous for a few bucks less than iTunes:

Also making a welcome return are Twickenham’s own Noah & The Whale. After the Eels-like promise of their debut Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, I was severely disappointed by the mopey follow-up The First Days of Spring, fearing that songs as good as “5 Years Time” were the exception, not the rule. They’ve allayed my fears and rediscovered their knack for great indie pop songs with the buoyant Last Night on Earth. Here’s the lead single, “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.”:

If you like what you hear, grab Last Night on Earth at Amazon MP3.

Also of interest is the score to the upcoming film Hanna by The Chemical Brothers. Seems that pre-release hype is a bit more tempered than it was for Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score, and that may serve it well. The trailer only features tiny bits of the score, but what I hear is electrifying. Check out a remix of “Container Park” that the Chems posted to their website:

Want to hear more? Head to iTunes, where it seems to be a digital exclusive right now. What’s rocking your headphones this week?

I’ll take one ticket to Booty City, please

I can’t even tell you how excited I am for the new Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears album Scandalous to drop tomorrow. After sharing a tune from their debut album with my friend Paul, he nicely summed up their sound as “Screaming Jay Hawkins meets Stax records.” They pack more funk, soul, and blues into one single than most bands squeeze into a whole album. Dig on their new single, “Booty City”:

Pre-order the deluxe version of Scandalous on iTunes and you’ll get 4 bonus tracks, including what I really really really hope is a cover of the Stones’ the Robert Johnson classic “Stop Breakin’ Down.”

Update (3/15): it is a cover of Johnson’s song, and it’s awesome!