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Ear Bliss: In-your-face new R&B release

September 23, 2013

Black Joe Lewis

The country artist Vince Gill is only 56 years of age and already a country music hall of famer. Credit a slew of hits from the mid 1980s into the aughts, not to mention multiple awards that spanned Top New Male Vocalist from the Academy of Country Music in 1984 to a Grammy for best country album in 2007. Recent years have seen a return to the roots for Gill and he hits a homer on that front with his new release, a homage to the Bakersfield country sound appropriately titled Bakersfield. On the complete flipside of Gill is Black Joe Lewis. Lewis plays R&B in no-holds-barred, in-your-face fashion. He comes to Providence on Tuesday night to play Club Fete. He also has new wax available which we give the Ear Bliss look-see. Let’s get to it.

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
MCA-Nashville Records
Go back to 2000 and Vince Gill was riding a 10-year high as country music’s kingpin. With the 2011 release “Guitar Slinger,” Gill followed his muse and released an album on a major label that didn’t quite strike gold with country music fans, but maintained the quality factor. You can change things like that when you are a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and having more than 20 songs that hit the Billboard Top 10 under your belt. Around that time (2011), Gill also began moonlighting with local throwback Western Swing band The Time Jumpers at their weekly residency in Nashville. The presence of Gill required The Time Jumpers move their weekly gig to larger quarters to accommodate the crowds that star power brings. It was just another hint of a return to the true roots for the Oklahoma native. Gill appeared prominently on The Time Jumpers debut album last year. Let’s call that Stage One. Stage Two happened just a month ago with the release of the album “Bakersfield.” A collaboration with the Nashville pedal steel guitar virtuoso (and ace session man) Paul Franklin, it sees the two paying homage to the addictive sounds of the C&W maestros of Bakersfield, Calif. We’re talking Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Tommy Collins. Singing and playing, Gill, Franklin and company deliver the goods to perfection. The crime of the collection is its brevity, only 10 tracks of prime stuff of what could easily have been twice that. Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of the classic West Coast country sound, this one is played to perfection. In other words, it’s a no-brainer addition to your listening space.

Black Joe Lewis
“Electric Shave”
Vagrant Records
My first introduction to guitar slinger Black Joe Lewis came in 2006. Then fronting a band called The Cold Breeze and holding down a weekly residency at the Hole in the Wall club in his home base of Austin, Texas, Lewis and band kicked out an unrelenting and urgent brand of turbulent tunage equals parts greasy R&B and garage rock and roll. With his ax strung around his neck and a shout for a voice, in-your-face was putting it lightly. Lewis signed a major label deal with Americana imprint Lost Highway Records in 2008 with two albums resulting (“Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!” and “Scandalous”). Backed by his band The Honeybears, the records toned down the recklessness of The Cold Breeze for a sound which while high octane in punch and power was definitely geared to make Lewis more accessible. On his third album titled “Electric Shave” with a new suitor in Vagrant Records, Lewis ditches the “safety” of those Lost Highway albums returning to music more in the style of the live experience which got him noticed in the first place. Backed by a powerhouse horn section calling themselves Hard Proof, “Electric Shave” is thick and heavy-fisted garage soul with equals nods to psych and funk. Lewis and company move from the full throttle one-two opening punch of “Skulldiggin” and “Young Girls” to the funky strut of first single “Come To My Party” to the bump and grind burn of “Vampire” with wolf howls and all. What with 10 of its 11 tracks carrying the warning “Explicit,” this is not easy listening music in the least. Lewis’ credo is in-your-face music to get every piece of your body shaking. It is a fete he accomplishes in spades on “Electric Shave.”
Austin-based guitarist Black Joe Lewis is on the road behind his brand new album “Electric Shave” (Vagrant Records). See if you can stay still when he and his band touch down at Fete in Providence (103 Dike St.) on Tuesday night. Local heroes The Silks are in the opening slot. Doors are at 8 p.m. and music begins at 9 p.m.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.


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