Review Summary: The strange and illegitimate love-child of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Son House.
Black Joe Lewis isn't out there to break any stereotypes with his music. With track titles like "Welcome to the Jungle," "Booty City," and "Black Snake," this isn't exactly an exercise in political correctness or individuality transcending race. That also doesn't mean it's bad music. Equal parts delta blues and funk with a little bit of punk thrown in for good measure, Black Joe Lewis and his band deliver a rowdy, energetic, and soulful performance that remains engaging from beginning to end.
If you're familiar with their debut, Tell 'em What Your Name Is, you'll be right at home with the sounds of Scandalous. The formula hasn't changed much, but the execution has greatly improved. You'll still hear the same scuzzy guitar riffs, the same energetic brass pounds, the same distorted vocals, but the band feels much tighter and familiar. Where the first album sounded like a band trying to make a funk and blues album, this one sounds like a band succeeding. This is them not giving a *** about preconceived notions about what their genre is supposed to sound like and making a record that's full of raw, danceable energy. The brass section feels more like an integral part of the action and not just something tacked on because it's expected of the genre. The solos writhe with energy. And to top it off, the band wisely opted for a dirtier production that distorts enough to give the illusion of spontaneity or of a live performance.
While the formula hasn't changed much, the band has expanded their parameters. Where the influence of delta blues was hinted at on Tell 'em What Your Name is, such as on "Master Sold My Baby," they've expanded the influence. The simplicity and emotion of "Messin'" provides interesting reprise from the more funk oriented songs, but where the genre's mark is most impressive is on the tracks "Ballad of Jimmy Tanks" and "Jesus Took My Hand" where they've mixed the nasaly, southern whine of delta blues with a horn section. While not the best tracks on the album, they are a unique hybrid that may result in interesting development on future albums. They've examined the roots of the music they're making and have figured out what works together and what doesn't, and have pulled it off very convincingly. This isn't like a NOFX album where they're trying to show off how many kinds of punk they can play and it doesn't really work or sound authentic. Other standout tracks similarly push the limits. "She's so Scandalous" has an ever slight reggae influence, and its slow tempo is countered by a pulsing and driving horn section, and "You Been Lyin'" sounds like a Stevie Wonder protest song with more rock n' roll bite.
The album, however, is not without its flaws. Like its predecessor, this album contains a humorous, but slightly out of place spoken word piece, this one entitled "Mustang Ranch." The plot revolves around a man's attempt to get his hand glazed (I'll let you figure that one out), and while it's catchy and funny, it's kind of out of place and doesn't hold up to repeated listens. Likewise, "Since I Met You Baby," while it contains a standout trumpet solo, the Sam Cooke sound of the music doesn't really go well with Lewis's Mississippi drone. While a massive improvement, there's still some evidence of growing pains.
At the same time, growing pains are much more interesting than stagnation. While its obvious that they've found a sound that works, they have little qualms with expanding on it, resulting in a tight, largely consistent sophomore album that's a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.