On his fifth album, 2017's Backlash, Black Joe Lewis takes a few steps forward and a few steps back. After dropping the band name the Honeybears (but without dropping the band itself) on 2013's Electric Slave, Lewis is once again using the group moniker. And, as if to further reassure folks that Lewis is still fronting a first-class soul revue, the performances on Backlash sound especially taut and emphatic, with horn players Derek Phelps (trumpet) and Joseph Woullard (baritone sax) making the most of the band's rough-and-ready grooves. Lewis and Company have doubled down on their trademark blend of '60s soul and '70s funk on Backlash, taking the raw but satisfying sound of Electric Slave and pushing it even further. At the same time, Backlash finds Lewis adding a bit more rock & roll to his mix; he and Michael Brinley have given their guitars more room in the arrangements this time out, and on the rough and rollicking "Flash Eyed," the angular strut of "Global," and the fleet-footed "Freakin' Out," the six-string work is fierce but eloquent, and a wild reminder of the days when expressive guitar slingers were common on the R&B scene. And as befits the album's nervy strut and swagger, Backlash finds Lewis speaking his mind about the state of the world, dealing with crime in the African-American community on "Nature's Natural," lamenting the state of the environment in "Global," and celebrating street-level feminism in "PTP." Fans who have been following Black Joe Lewis' career since his 2007 debut album will find a lot of what they like on Backlash. But there's also enough that's fresh, tough, and challenging to remind listeners that Lewis is still moving forward, putting a modern-day perspective on the tropes of classic soul and R&B.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming