Monday, July 21, 2008

Soul Sister #52

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: Got To Be the Way It Is and Make It Good to Me
From: Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings [Daptone, 2002]

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: Stranded In Your Love and My Man Is a Mean Man
From: Naturally [Daptone, 2005]

Sharon Jones: When the Other Foot Drops Uncle and Humble Me
From: 100 Days, 100 Nights [Daptone, 2007]

For those of you who are perplexed about the title of this post, the "#52" refers to the age of the talented lead vocalist Sharon Jones from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are a ten-piece soul-funk band from Brooklyn who released a small pressing of their first album Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings on Daptone Records in 2002. The band consists of Sharon Jones on vocals, Daptone label-head Gabriel Roth on bass, Neil Sugarman (formerly of the Sugarman Three) on sax, along with core members of The Mighty Imperials and the Soul Providers.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have recorded three full length records on Daptone Records. Dap Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings has a gritty funk sound that recalls early James Brown songs like "Give It Up Turn It Loose" and "Mother Popcorn". Tight drum breaks and fat, greasy grooves ignite tunes like "Got to Be the Way It Is" and "Pick It Up, Lay It In the Cut". Elsewhere, on "Make It Good to Me", Sharon's expressive vocal stylings blend nicely with the deep baritone melodies of the Dap Kings, making it a soul ballad worth writing home about.

The songs on Naturally stray from the funky grooves and tight drums on Dap Dippin, in favor of a crisper sound with cleaner production. However, not one ounce of soul is lost in the process. While I usually don't like ballads, I have to admit that the duet"Stranded In Your Love" does everything right. The playful banter between Lee Fields and Sharon, funky piano solos and subtle string accompaniment make this track a cut above the rest of the ballads. Other tracks such as "My Man is a Mean Man" and "Your Thing Is a Drag" feature reverb-heavy production and punchy horn arrangments that channel the power and energy of classic James Brown. Overall, the songs on Naturally create a cohesive album chock-full of soul and funk tunes that are varied enough to keep your interest.

While 100 Days, 100 Nights has a decidedly more straight ahead soul sound to it than it's predecessors, there is no denying that it is a contemporary soul classic with a vintage sound. Most listeners will be hard pressed to guess what year this record was released, as every detail from the cover artwork to the analog production is done in a tastefully retro fashion. 100 Days, 100 Nights is an album filled with slow burn ballads and soulful grooves reminiscent of classic soul like Aretha Franklin and Howard Tate. With the sultry sound of the title cut, Sharon Jones and company set the precedent for the entire album. On "When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle" Sharon pours on the soul like a veteran as she playfully calls out her lover with this line, "And your crafty little pencil is running out of lead". Next, Sharon belts it out like Aretha on "Humble Me" as the band's well placed horn charts and piano playing perfectly complements the slow groove of the song. To close out the record is "Answer Me", a slinky mid-tempo groover with an upbeat gospel breakdown that will shake the pews in your church. Sharon desparately pleads with the big man upstairs" Answer me sweet Jesus, Don't you hear me calling you, I need you Lord", as the band ably backs her up with a top notch-groove. I posted a few songs from 100 Days, 100 Nights on Eclectic Grooves in December of 2007. Here is the link for those of you that are interested in hearing those songs.

Several years ago, friends of mine were recommending that I check out Sharon Jones in a live setting. I marked it on my calendar on several occasions, but to no avail. Each time some factor of life stepped in and prevented me from going- lack of money, concert sold-out, out-of town, too tired. One of the best stories was the year that they turned out to be the special guest at Wieden and Kenndy's Christmas party at the Doug Fir, unbeknownst to my girlfriend and I. We were both kicking ourselves about that for awhile.

So, I have made a special point of getting my tickets in advance for their July 25th performance at the Oregon Zoo. Any of you who appreciate the sound of retro soul with a funky live band that doesn't quit, should check out this show. It will definitely be the most fun-filled, exhilerating concert event of the summer.