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Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears: Gritty, not pretty

They have their own genre, 'garage soul'

As Black Joe Lewis remembers it, it was his trumpet player, Darren Sluyter, who came up with the term "garage soul" to describe the ferociously gritty and groove-laden music he makes with his band, the Honeybears.

"We're not really like the Dap-Kings . . . and we're not like an all-out rock-and-roll band, or blues," Lewis says over the phone from his home in Austin, Texas. "So [Sluyter] was like, 'Yeah, man, we're garage soul.' Which is perfect because it's like garage-rock or punk-rock with horns."

"I think it's cool to come up with your own genre," he adds with a laugh.

Whatever you call this James Brown-meets-the-Stooges amalgam, the music really does set Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears apart from all the other young soul revivalists. It's fitting that the first song on the group's first full-length album, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!, is titled "Gunpowder." This is explosive stuff, and Lewis sets the gutbucket tone with his tonsil-tearing vocals.

The 27-year-old grew up near Austin listening to a lot of different things, from Hendrix to hip-hop, and not paying much attention to the blues and soul records his father and uncles played. It was not until he was 20 and working at a pawn shop in Austin that he first picked up a guitar.

"I was just so bored, it was so slow," Lewis says of the job. "So I started to get interested in music."

Austin being a hotbed of blues and R&B, he was introduced to the music by friends, says Lewis, who names Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, and Lightnin' Hopkins among his influences.

Lewis - he added the "Black" to his name first as a joke, but kept it because it's an "eye-catcher" - likes to write in a spontaneous, off-the-cuff fashion. The songs tend to be short, hard, and to the point - the 10 on the album clock in at a total of 30 minutes. With titles such as "Big Booty Woman," "Boogie," and "Humpin'," and the comedic tale "Get Yo S---," they aim mostly at regions below the head and heart. But numbers like "I'm Broke" and the droning "Master Sold My Baby" suggest Lewis also has larger ambitions.

Just don't expect him ever to go all Al Green and sing a sweet ballad.

"We like doing the raw blues thing, the more greasy stuff," he says. "Smooth soul is not up my alley."