Nobody’s got soul like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Drawing inspiration from the classic records of Motown, Stax and Muscle Schoals, the singer and her top-notch 11-piece band are a living encyclopedia of vintage funk and R&B.
The Dap Kings formed in the early 2000’s as the house band for bassist Gabriel Roth’s revivalist Daptone Records. They released a number of funk 45’s and LP’s backing different artists, but gained the most attention for their recording with New York session singer and Rikers Island corrections officer Sharon Jones. Over the next decade the band hit the road hard, playing clubs and festivals establishing a reputation as the most vital and exciting live soul act today.
Give The People What They Want, the band’s 5th album, does exactly what its title proclaims. It is a collection of irresistible 60’s and 70’s era riffs, grooves and textures, assembled in a way to inject new life into these seemingly retro sounds. There’s an undercurrent of desperation running throughout the album, which at first may seem like a reflection of Jones’s recent victory over pancreatic cancer that kept her away from music for most of the past year. In truth however, the album was written and recorded before Jones was diagnosed, dealing instead with tried-and-true themes of heartache and betrayal. Despite all of this the album is certainly not a downer. Like all classic soul music, it promises a catharsis — a celebration of resiliency and the shared human experience that inspires us to get up and groove.
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ “Stranger to My Happiness”
The album’s single “Stranger to My Happiness”, provides the best example of this kind of redemption. The song kicks off with a Stax-style boogie that sounds like it could have been recorded by The MG’s in 1965. And despite the ominous title, when the Dap King’s backing vocalists sing “feel like I’ve been a stranger to my happiness,” it sounds not like a dark confessional but a chorus you’d hear at a southern tent revival. “Retreat!”, the album’s opening track, is built around a moody, atmospheric arrangement driven by Jones’s soaring vocals and Roth’s stellar James Jamerson-inspired bass lines. While the song may be a warning to heed a witchy woman, it’s clear the lyrics have taken on a new meaning as Jones has banished her illness and celebrates a return to health.
Tracks like “You’ll Be Lonely” and “Making Up and Breaking Up” show off the band’s uncanny ability to pull of different old school styles, ranging from southern-fried country funk to the Philadelphia Sound of groups like The Delfonics. “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” has a bouncing early James Brown feel that is sonically thrilling but lyrically comes off a little too cynical. “Slow Down Love” rounds out the album recapturing the lost art of the delicate slow jam, complete with lush horn arrangements, punchy guitar stabs and Jones’s intoxicating bluesy bends and sweeps.
One of the criticisms of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings albums is that they sound like a collection of singles rather than cohesive statements. And while there may be some truth to this idea, it misses the point. The band’s music is meant to be enjoyed on an immediate emotional level, harkening back to an era when music was made for the sake of making it rather then to craft any kind of self-conscious artistic statement. Give The People What They Want may not stand out much from the group’s previous efforts, but it certainly reaffirms what a few bands can legitimately claim, that they are the very best at what they do.
Written by Ethan Varian
OurVinyl | Contributor