I’m a fan of soul, funk, and R&B of the 1960s and 1970s, so naturally I’m drawn to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The band keeps alive the sounds of an earlier music with new songs that sometimes sound eerily as if they’ve been hidden in a vault for decades. Nevertheless, there’s a strong musical talent in Jones and the band that makes this more than just a nostalgia trap. Jones’ off-told story of resilience against a reluctant music industry as well as her battle with cancer also lends the music a poignancy.
A documentary released recently called Miss Sharon Jones! documents her life and struggles. I hope to see it soon and to prepare for it, I listened to the full catalog of brilliant music.
Album: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Favorite Tracks: “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” “The Dap Dip,” “Ain’t It Hard,” and “Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut”
The debut album sounds more like it could have been from 1972 than 2002. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are built on a retro soul and funk sound, but it sounds ever more retro here, if that makes sense. Effects like a James Brown-style introduction and inter-song banter add to the effect. And then you wonder if Janet Jackson covered Sharon Jones rather than vice versa.
Date: 25 January 2005
Favorite Tracks: “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?,” “My Man Is a Mean Man,” “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “Fish in the Dish”
Thoughts: If the debut album is a time capsule holding a lost album from the early 1970s, Naturally is more of a compilation of an lost soul band’s hits over the course of the 1960s and 70s, echoing stylistic changes of Motown, Stax, Atlantic, et al. It includes an Aretha Franklin-style ballad (“You’re Gonna Get It”), an Otis Redding/Carla Thomas-style duet (“Stranded in Your Love” ) and even a Civil Rights Era folk crossover (“This Land is Your Land”).
Album: 100 Days, 100 Nights
Date: 2 October 2007
Favorite Tracks: “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “Nobody’s Baby,” “Let Them Knock,” and “Answer Me.”
Thoughts: This album oozes with confidence with Jones’ voice stronger than ever, and the Dap-Tones tighter than they’e been before. The inspiration is still retro, but this album feels more contemporary than its predecessors, evolving a sound that’s been lost over the decades.
Album: I Learned the Hard Way
Date: 6 April 2010
Favorite Tracks: “I Learned the Hard Way,” “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” and “The Game Get Old”
Thoughts: If we lived in a just world, or maybe if this was released 40 years earlier, this would be the album remembered for containing the big hits that dominated the airwaves all summer long. The album is less cohesive than its predecessors, but at its best moments it knocks you out.
Album: Give the People What They Want
Date: 14 January 2014
Favorite Tracks: “Retreat!,” “Stranger to My Happiness,” “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” and “We Get Along”
Thoughts: This album has a more melancholy air to it than its predecessors although there’s a strong resilience to it as well. Seems appropriate that it comes from a time when Jones was stricken with pancreatic cancer yet perseveres and not only keeps a musical style alive, but also vital.
Album: It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Date: 2015 October 30
Favorite Tracks: “8 Days of Hanukkah,” “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects,” and “Silent Night”
Thoughts: Holiday albums can be a cynical cash grab where an artist records new renditions of old standards with maybe a treacly original tune and the guarantee that the songs will played one month a year for eternity. Fortunately, you can tell that Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings put their heart into this. I don’t know if anyone in the band is Jewish, but the opening track is an authentically celebratory – and funky – celebration of the Festival of Lights. That’s followed by the touching story of a mother’s love at the heart of Christmas. The rest of the album is a mix of standards and originals that are worth putting on at a holiday party.
Album: Miss Sharon Jones!
Date: 16 August 2016
Favorite Tracks: “Longer and Stronger,” “Genuine Pt. 1,” and “I’m Still Here”
Thoughts: This is a soundtrack rather a compilation so I assume it follows the needs of the film rather than being a comprehensive overview of the band’s career. Surprisingly, it contains no live performance tracks which is disappointing. Nevertheless, it’s a good introduction to the newbie of the power and beauty of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. And it includes some songs previously unreleased on albums including the new, autobiographical song “I’m Still Here.”
One final song I love – and one that made me first aware of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – is only available on the compilation album Dark Was the Night, a cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Inspiration Information.”