“Give the People What They Want”
Sharon Jones is a survivor–a survivor of a music business that turned her away for being “too black”, a survivor of low-profile singing gigs (wedding bands), of thankless blue-collar jobs (prison guard), and of shifting stylistic trends that might make her penchant for singing soul music seem antiquated and passé. However demoralizing these events may be, though, they paled in comparison to Jones’s most recent case of bad luck–a bout with a debilitating diagnosis of bile duct cancer. After months and months of intensive chemotherapy and the blessings of her fans and admirers, Jones is now cancer free and, along with her backing band The Dap-Kings, has released her sixth studio album on Brooklyn’s Daptone Label. Jones’s music has always been firmly rooted in 1960s-era soul music, and while earlier releases have foregrounded the funky grit of Stax-era soul, the group’s newest album, “Give the People What They Want” offers a more comprehensive tour of soul’s never-static iterations. The Stax sound is still present, most notably on the single “Stranger to My Happiness”, but this time it is augmented by female backing vocals that sound like a more sanctified Supremes. The lazy funk of “You’ll Be Lonely” wouldn’t sound too out-of-place on one of Lee Dorsey’s late 1960s albums or on an early Meters record, suggesting a latent New Orleans R&B influence. The album also contains a number of ballads, such as the understated yet uplifting “We Get Along” and the low-key “Making Up and Breaking Up (And Making Up and Breaking Up Over Again),” which moves the band into the yet-unexplored smooth soul of 1970s Philadelphia. “Get Up and Get Out” evokes the country-soul of Muscle Shoals, while “Long Time, Wrong Time” glides along thanks to a slinky lick from guitarist Binky Griptite which evokes Reggie Young’s timeless riff at the beginning of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” Other tracks, such as the galloping “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” or “Now I See” are more orchestrated and broader in instrumentation (xylophone and tympani drums) and suggest a more pronounced Motown influence. All of this might seem like a rote exercise in precise replication if not for the group’s studied adherence to detail and nuance. While great, previous Dap-Kings albums might be faulted for sometimes valuing groove over songwriting, at times too willing to settle into a funky rhythm and stay there. “Give the People What They Want” does more: it is groovy, the compositions are precise and layered, and the songwriting touches all hallmarks of American soul music without devolving into the mannered sedation of other so-called “retro” acts. Jones and her band have most definitely given this reviewer what he wants.
Recommended tracks: #2, #4, #6, #5
Recommended if you also like: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, The Poets of Rhythm
Reviewed by Vince Meserko. Tune into the Jookhouse every Saturday evening from 6-8pm on 90.7fm KJHK.