Newton’s First Law of Music states that a band must have either talent, originality, or dumb luck in order to succeed. Black Joe Lewis has created easily the least original album of the 21st century so far—I close my eyes and I swear I’m listening to Sam Cooke or James Brown. But with Lewis’s wild black-coffee swagger, the music sounds positively revolutionary.
Even with Lewis’ astoundingly versatile vocal cords, the best cuts on Tell ‘Em are the extended instrumental jams, with guitar solos and bouncing bass licks that remind us how we danced before synthesizers were invented. All the songs are firmly steeped in blues and funk, with big, brash horn arrangements and a block-party sound. Even while painting by numbers, though, there’s still a bit of punk energy that you can find on big rockin’ blues ballands like “Bobby Booshay,” which is basically an extended opportunity for Lewis to show off his guitar skills. It’s topped off by production values straight out of the 1970s, with crunchy, distorted vocals that lend the music the warmth and body of a finely aged whisky.
Tell ‘Em is a fantastic record, one that achieves that rare balance between meticulous production and raw, unvarnished mojo. Every guitar note or piano key is twisted, tortured, and seduced to create a dark, sexy stew of noise. His music fires a gunshot of blackness straight at your pelvis, without pretensions of inentiveness, but with energy, righteousness, and, most importantly, joy.
In A Word: Black