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Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears

Joe Lewis is stuffed into a van with his six bandmates and one stranger, as they hurtle across Texas to a gig in Marfa. Most of the guys are sleeping now, content in the knowledge they’ve just made the record of their lives. All killer, no filler, the fittingly titled, take-no-prisoners Scandalous (Lost Highway)—once again produced by Jim Eno, moonlighting from his main gig as Spoon’s drummer—is a churning slab of rock & roll, blues and funk, laced with a double shot of 100-proof punkitude.

This band has gotten tight as a gnat’s ass through nearly two years of barnstorming without a break. “We’ve grown a lot as a band, and so has our fan base,” the lanky, enigmatic Lewis acknowledges. “Hopefully it’s still going up, but it will ultimately be what we make of it. As the shows get bigger and we get bigger, we have to keep improving to meet the demand. If we can’t do that, it won’t go anywhere.” From the look in Joe’s eyes as he glances at the one-stoplight towns and endless open country of central Texas whizzing past, you can tell he knows whereof he speaks.

While on the road, they also eagerly soaked up the worldly knowledge of touring mates the New York Dolls and Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm. “The Dolls covered Bo Diddley and Sonny Boy Williamson, and so do we,” says guitarist Zach Ernst, riding shotgun in the van, as he does in the band. “That youthful, aggressive, unschooled thing is really appealing to us. That’s what we like to listen to and what we’re shooting for. We’ve had some lineup changes since the first record, but at its core, it’s still the same band, and everyone’s excited to move on to the next stage.”

Like his forebears, Lewis writes from direct, often bitter experience with unflinching veracity. The songs of Scandalous are littered with the debris of age-old issues: hard times and one-night stands, lying and cheating, redemption and revenge. Gritty, raunchy and real, his music is not for the squeamish, but experiencing it fully can be genuinely cathartic.

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