(Soundbite of music)


Austin, Texas, is the hot place to be today, literally - the high temperature today, 83 degrees - and figuratively because 1,800 musical acts from around the world are descending on the city to rock out at South by Southwest, that musical festival. One band that won't have to go anywhere is Austin's own Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears. They have a new CD out this week; it's called "Tell Them What Your Name Is!" Two of the band's member sat down with music journalist Christian Bordal to talk about it.

(Soundbite of Music)

Mr. JOE LEWIS: (Singing) I said go about it, baby. Damn, you know I like it…

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: Joe Lewis learned to play guitar working at a pawn shop.

Mr. JOE LEWIS (Vocalist and Guitarist, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears): Yeah, yeah, the pawn shop. We just had a bunch of guitars, and I kind of just messed around with it, messing around with 'em, you know, and then I said I'd buy one one day.

BORDAL: But nowadays, he's in the fish delivery business.

Mr. LEWIS: I mean, I drive a fish van around from like 8 o'clock to about 4 during the week usually.

BORDAL: Rhythm guitarist, Zach Ernst, is a substitute teacher.

Mr. ZACH ERNST (Rhythm Guitarist, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears): I think everyone would, of course, rather be playing music but you know, we got a real big band and a lot of mouths to feed, a lot of bills to pay, so we all kind of have our own job when we come back home.

BORDAL: Rock 'n' roll isn't all sequins and room service, but things are looking up for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. They already have a big local following in Austin. But this week, timed to the release of their first CD, the band gets to strut its stuff in front of the world's music industry bigwigs at the South by Southwest music conference.

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Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Fill 'em up(ph), baby Let's talk about (unintelligible)…

BORDAL: Black Joe Lewis used to front a Chicago-style electric blues trio, and his blues-influenced guitar playing is still very much in evidence. But the Honeybears have added horns to the mix and a funky soul sound that's spiced up with a little garage rock attitude. Put it all together, and what you've got is the perfect band to get a sweaty, rowdy, crowded bar bouncing to the beat.

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Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Well, Gotta go, gotta come on down...

BORDAL: This is party music, and the Honeybears don't try to turn the process into high art.

Mr. LEWIS: If I say something cool and it sticks, that's pretty much the song, you know.

BORDAL: But there is one serious-minded tune on the CD, called "Master Sold My Baby."

(Soundbite of song "Master Sold My Baby")

Mr. LEWIS: I wrote that song about like, the slave that comes into port - you know, they used to split the families all up and all that. You know, it's like the slave that wakes up and they sold his wife or whatever the day before, you know, so he's like - he's just trying to see where she went, you know.

(Soundbite of song "Master Sold My Baby")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Now, now, now Oh, yeah, mow mow mow Walk on by, yeah My baby is gone…

BORDAL: Most of the time, I don't know what the hell Joe Lewis is saying. Though he shouts and wails like a soul man, he drools and gums his words so unintelligibly you'll be lucky to catch one in five. Yes, the band rocks without clearly enunciated lyrics, but Lewis sings with enough conviction, I want to know what he's talking about.

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Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Just say yeah, yeah, yeah

BORDAL: At 10 songs, barely more than 30 minutes, "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!" gets right to it. The band is all over these James Brown- Otis Redding grooves with a loose, bubbling intensity. And the production, handled by Spoon's drummer, Jim Eno, is spot on, mixing just the right amount of space and clarity for the instruments with a '60s mono, barroom blues ambiance. So if you've got some boogying to do, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears will get your party started. For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

BRAND: He sounds so serious, Christian does. But if only you knew what the producers have to cut out every time he comes into the studios to do his bit, to do his reviews of music. Well, let's just play it for you.

(Soundbite of mouth sounds)

BORDAL: (unintelligible). For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal. For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

BRAND: Yeah, we'll miss him and oh, you can hear tracks from the Honeybears' album at our Web site, nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Rolling down straight to my knees She's doing things I never…

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