There isn't enough funk in my life. While I don't frequent the dreary singer-songwriter tunes that were once my life staple; zoning out to poetic whispers set to sparse guitars, even the dance tunes, the hip-hop and the harder rocking indie stuff just doesn't bring that heart-elevating element that funk does. The thing about funk is that it is music infused so obviously and completely with life, hell capital Life, that it is sonically undeniable. You can't help but feel it while you hear it. The chunky guitars, the emotional, powerful horns and the barked self-assured vocals create an object of musical confidence that is unlike anything else. So, when my pal Kellen mentioned the new Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears album to me, titled Scandalous, in conversation yesterday I was instantly intrigued. Funk is ALWAYS worth a listen, even if it isn't always deeply effecting because confident music carries with it a strength that makes it strong. It doesn't have to be life-altering or earth-shattering or noun-hyphen-verb. The virtue lies in the potency.
General consensus on Scandalous has offered a "fun over depth" argument to capture the album's inadequacies. And yes, this is not an album that seeks the levels of experimentation with the medium that we've seen from the Black Keys in recent years, or even the solemn fearfulness found in some of James Brown's more inventive material. But, the band still manages to play within the genre here and there. They demonstrate some Spanish influence in the horns with "Since I Met You Baby" and hit some notes of bluesier lamentation on a few tracks. It's not entirely comprised of party music, but the bulk of the material feels similar... too similar to everything else. Consistency isn't a bad thing, we thrive on it. Hell, we all hope for it. A lack of consistency is why we claim bands like Weezer and Franz Ferdinand sucked post album one or two, but in this world of fully-embraced short attention spans, being able to instantly pick one track from the next, unless it is a free-flowing stream of consciousness project (like the Fiery Furnace's work), makes an album feel more fresh. Eventually, impassioned, grungy vocals and chunky guitars lose their meaning, especially when they are the focus of 11 consecutive tracks.
Scandalous has some definite, worth-your-time high points. The opener "Livin' In The Jungle" is peppy, funky and powerful. The opening riffs, horns and keys alone are enough to sell it. This is a pure, catchy track that throws you into the album. The pace settles back with "I'm Gonna Leave You," a song that feels just like the Black Keys in its falling back into minimal bass and guitar riffs and traditional blues structure. It's a good song, but a song that you've heard before. "She's So Scandalous" and "Booty City" provide the most solid back-to-back on the album. Both songs are excellent, energetic and interesting, using the lush arrangements of brass and guitar to their full capacity, but after those two, the album tails off a bit. By no means does Scandalous fail, but it is front-loaded. I concede that the ending tracks may just be a collection of growers too, needing repetition to blossom into full funky, life-changing madness. The album is a can of mixed nuts: there is variety, you'll find a cashew, a walnut, some almonds in there, but the bottom line is that you better fucking love some peanuts because that's the gross majority. In a live setting, as my buddy Kellen mentioned to me, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears is a phenomenal band, and I'm sure he's correct, because this funk is best heard infused with the energy of a life performance.
You can check out the complete album via playlist on Black Joe Lewis's Myspace page. And, you'll find tour dates, to get your funk on right, on the band's website here.
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