Fri, Aug 23, 2013.
It's always exciting to see a band right after the release of a brand-new album, especially one they are excited about, and looks to be a milestone in their career. Think back to last year's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, when the Avett Brothers (also appearing this year) did what many call one of the best shows in the province's music history, just days after their latest had come out. That may turn out to be the case at this year's festival as well, because Austin-based act Black Joe Lewis are releasing a new one, Electric Slave this coming Tuesday (August 27), just before heading to Harvest for a date on Sept. 14.
And the group is excited about the new album. Speaking with leader Joe Lewis from his Austin home, he was quick with his enthusiam. "I'm proud of it," he starts. "It's the first of the three we've done that I actually like. This one is different, there's a new lineup in the band, so a different mix. A lot of the songs are old, we've been playing them for a while, and I think the material is some of the most original we've ever done."
The recording is pretty simple, but extremely powerful. These aren't prettied-up songs with atmosphere and loops added, and the sound cleaned up. The vocals are raw, rough, a little distorted. The drums sound like drums, not beats, the guitars rock and the horns punch through. "That's another reason I like this one so much, it sounds like we do live," explains Lewis. "That's what I didn't like about the other two, they were doctored up and cleaned up. I think we figured out how to get that live sound across on this record."
The biggest change for the group was in the personnel, with half the old members shunted out, a new six-piece emerging. It let Lewis get to the music he really wanted to play, louder and too the point. "The last couple of records we were doing the soul thing, we kinda got away from what I used to do. "I was kind of a punk rock-blues guy. This one we wanted to be completely original, so there's a couple of sludge rock songs, some disco, Mamma's Queen is kinda a Bruce Springsteen song, but it all ties together. We got rid of some of the soul elements in the band, they wanted to stay the same. So finally we got an arguement-free record."
Also gone is the original name of the group, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. "We've actually been trying to drop the name for awhile," Lewis says. "It was kind of a joke when we came up with it. This record is kind of a new beginning for us, so it was a good to get rid of it now."
Electric Slave is an album that jumps out, partially because of the sound, and the energy, but also because of the commitment. It harkens back to the heyday of rock albums, when band lyrics were supposed to be important, and musicians felt like they had something to say. Lewis happily agrees with that: I definitely had a chip on my shoulder when I was writing this one, a lot of things had gone on in my life, I guess it's kind of an angry record." The title refers to something that's really been bugging him, the dependency on social media, hand-held devices, and machinery that's replacing so much human interaction. "Everything is electric now, and technology, nothing's personal, everybody texts and nobody talks. "They avoid things when they become tense, nobody deals face-on with issues. "I feel there's a lot bigger problems than the ones everybody is worried about online, the chatter that's fed to us by media. Everybody's losing the personal, nobody is really doing things anymore, and art and culture is suffering."
You'll get a blast of that on Electric Slave, plus shout-outs to originals like Howlin' Wolf, on the cut Vampire. Then there's the monster Come To The Party, which could become the new festival anthem, a pure fun number sure to get a work-out at Harvest. "We've been playing that live, it's a pretty dancey song. I've been jamming out to a lot of disco lately, and reminds me of that."
Black Joe Lewis headline the Next Gen Blues show at Harvest Jazz and Blues, along with The Record Company and Garrett Mason and Keith Hallett. It's at the Bell Aliant Mojo Tent, Saturday, Sept. 14.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).