On their Lost Highway debut, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears did everything right. A standard rock quartet with an eight-piece horn section, they offered a high-energy meld of retro-soul, funk, and R&B that recalled variously the early J. Geils Band, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding with a Stax/Volt-influenced rhythm section. On Scandalous, Lewis and producer Jim Eno scraped the band's sound even further; right into the grain of rhythm & blues-based music. There are only four horns this time, bringing the groove as close to live as you can get. There is also more focus on Lewis' and Zach Ernest's nasty, gritty guitars and the absolutely throbbing basslines of Bill Stevenson. Check their sweaty workout amid the horns and chants in "Booty City," and the homage to real life Nevada brothel, "Mustang Ranch." Both are dance tunes, and both rely on a double dirty-ass guitar attack to do battle with the horns for dominance. Matthew Strimska's drums shuffle and shake, cracking with taut rimshot breaks to accent the rowdy, orgiastic grooves. "Living in the Jungle" is tough, naked, horn-blasting, primitive funk with great axe fills by Lewis, who is shouting his best James Brown tempered by the soulful eros of Joe Tex. Further, the band relies more on electric Delta blues this time out. The pedal-to-the-medal funk-blues of "You Been Lyin' has Lewis and band backed by progressive gospel group the Relatives. It's 12 bars, but the I-IV-V is stretched to the breaking point with tight arpeggio horn charts and multi-part vocal harmonies as the guitars rattle venomously. "Ballad of Jimmy Tanks" begins as a Stax-styled soul workout, then crashes directly into sweaty R.L. Burnside-esque grind-it-out blues. Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Met You Baby" is utterly raw, its guitars knife-edge tinny, with bass and B-3 bleeding over them. But a quirky, mariachi-cum-soul horn arrangement sends it into the stratosphere. Lewis is pleading at the limit of his range; his voice cracking in all the right spots. It's one of the band's finest recorded moments. The closer pays tribute to Burnside's lusty running mate, Junior Kimbrough, with its darkly sexual hypnotic groove. Its title? "Jesus Took My Hand." In a word, Scandalous most certainly is; it's a party record that bleeds Saturday night into Sunday morning and beyond.
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