The type of retro-soul practiced by Sharon Jones and her Daptone colleagues has a definite kick, with all its tinny horns and funky polyrhythms, but there are other ways to revive classic R&B besides the Daptone method of working overtime to make new music sound old. Tell ’Em What Your Name Is!, the major-label debut of Austin’s Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, sounds very much like a product of the 21st century, even though the songs could’ve been written 50 years ago. Spoon drummer Jim Eno produced, and he keeps the instrumentation clean and bright—or at least as clean and bright as is suitable for gleefully profane songs about bad breakups and minimum-wage woes. Eno lends a percussive punch to the music, freeing frontman Lewis to growl and howl like an unhinged street-corner drunkard.
There’s a bit of a wink to Lewis’ performance, but the same could be said about Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Sly Stone, James Brown, and the other outsized personalities that Lewis pays homage to on Tell ’Em. That slippery question of “authenticity” matters less than the quality of The Honeybears’ music, which sparks from the first note of the album to the last, and adds urgency to Lewis’ grunts about being out of money and surrounded by his ex-girlfriend’s things. Tell ’Em What Your Name Is! is a fun, funny record, performed by a group of slick horn players and guitar-pickers who know that the ability to goose a crowd is a skill of timeless value.