Author: Max Weidman
If you take a look at any of the three LPs Sharon Jones has made with the Dap-Kings, you won’t find a date of production. Even if you buy them as compact discs, you won’t get the satisfaction of learning when they were made. This is a deliberate marketing scheme to achieve something the albums’ sound does even better: transcendence. Their high faith in old sound means lo fi: the band doesn’t use contemporary digital recording equipment. What you get is a new voice for music that—especially with James Brown’s death—has faded to an echo. You might not have heard anything off of 100 Days, 100 Nights—it was released just last month. Pick it up, however, and you’ll find something oddly familiar about it.
It’s not just the classic sound that gives you the feeling of deja vu. The Dap-Kings and Jones have done session work with Mark Ronson that shows up both on his album Version and Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. The digitized pop sugar that makes Ronson’s work sparkle is present on these records in the raw. This means, for most of 100 Days, 100 Nights and 2005’s Naturally, songs that are just as catchy are richer and deeper. Jones, with many years and a few pounds on Winehouse, fills in the colors of the rainbow that are still just black and white to the scrawny new diva.
The music was mostly written by various incarnations of bands whose remaining members now make up the Dap-Kings: David Guy, Binky Girptite, Bugaloo Velez and Homer Steinweiss. Some of the tracks are old standards. My current favorite reinterpretation is a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” found three-quarters of the way through Naturally. No group has so grandly made another’s song their own since Aretha took a little ditty called “Respect” by a guy named Otis. Jones inhabits the songs throughout the record: they are full of sex, soul and personality that shine through another’s words. And despite the punchy brass and potent bass, tracks like “Nobody’s Baby,” and “How Do You Let a Good Man Down?” definitively belong to Jones.
My copy of 2002’s Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings is still wrapped up, waiting for me to pick it up one rainy day at Amoeba. If Naturally and 100 Days, 100 Nights are any indication, it will be just as nostalgic and just as appropriate for your baby-making playlist. Be sure to include “Stranded in Your Love” and “Let Them Knock.” Both records’ songs are simultaneously lessons in an old school and the birth of a new one; you may call it Neo-Soul, but there is nothing of novelty about Ms. Jones.
It’s nice to be reminded that the particular blend of ’60s soul and ’70s funk which brought us Betty Davis, Aretha Franklin and a Supreme-less Diana Ross still has a voice. Styles of music, like indigenous languages, disappear all the time. It’s refreshing to know that there are still those who speak fluently. Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings are translators for our ignorance. If you ever wondered what happened to music—if your dial is stuck on K-EARTH 101—this is the band for you. When they play the El Rey Theater on December 2, you can get an up-close-and-personal look—and proof that soul never died. Thanks for saving it, Sharon.
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