Revivalists have an unusual problem – accurately capturing
the vibe of a musical sound long since fallen from public favor requires an
ability to forget everything that has come along to replace it as well as the
skills to find something new in the language of the old. When the session gangs
at Motown, Stax, Hi, Muscle Shoals or Chicago went into the studio to lay down
those soul grooves in the ‘60s and ‘70s, everybody was looking to top what had
gone before; when the Dap-Kings back up Sharon Jones, their goal is to slip in
between those explorations and create something beautiful enough to match what
has already happened.
With each release, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings sound more
worthy of matching the giants they so clearly emulate. For one thing, the raw ‘70s-styled
funk of Dap Dippin’ and Naturally has given way to a wider
variety of soul styles first showcased on 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights, most of which more closely fit the vocal
stylings Jones obviously loves best. Not that she can’t scream and shout with
the masters, but Jones learned to sing with an ear for melody and control which
allows her still occasional bursts of pure energy to be that much more
The Dap-Kings themselves are only getting better and better
as they go along, too. It’s unlikely at this point that there is any soul or
funk style these guys can’t recreate. They know the secret to great soul music
is allowing it to breathe naturally and expressively, while absolutely nailing
down the tightly syncopated rhythmic elements provided by every instrument.
the Hard Way is, much like the last record, chock full of
hit material, if there was a way to send individual cuts on 45s back to various
years to match individual styles. “The Game Gets Old” could have fit nicely
between the O’Jays and the Chi-Lites in 1971; “I Learned the Hard Way” might
have flowed well between the Impressions and Major Lance in 1965; “Window
Shopping” would have given Ann Peebles and Al Green some competition in 1974.
Heck, “Money,” tackling the problems of the current economy, sounds right at
home next to recent albums by Bettye LaVette.
Jones has been singing professionally since the ‘70s, but
it’s only been in the last decade that she’s finally become a star. Her unique
vocal style, comfortable and warm and capable of ramping emotions up and down
on a dime, deserves the material the Dap-Kings have become increasingly adept
at feeding her. There are any number of soul and funk revivalists working these
days, many of them very good, but Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are right now
the finest at sounding both old and fresh at the same time.
Tracks: “The Game Gets Old,” “Money,” “Window Shopping,” “Mama Don’t
Like My Man” STEVE PICK