If the people want classic, enjoyable, snap-your-fingers funk and soul with clear and brassy-voiced female vocalist, this album is exactly what they want. I suppose there may be people out there who would not like this album, but I would never want to hang out with them. This is fun stuff, and you’ve got to be able to enjoy it.
It’s all here. Swinging brass, bopping sax, great bass lines, sharp vocals delivered crisply and accented with classic back-up singers, even shaking tambourines. You’ve heard this music before, back in the late 60s and the 70s, on tinny transistor radios, from people like Diana Ross and Gladys Knight. Some of these songs could have been slipped onto the American Graffiti soundtrack album and nobody would have been the wiser.
I guess that leads to a question. What’s the point? There’s no new sound here – why listen to it instead of the already-established masters? Even acknowledging that this is top-shelf stuff, isn’t it several decades late coming to the party?
Two answers (rationalizations?) come to mind. First, there’s always room at the top, and this album belongs at the top of the heap of Temptations, Supremes, Pips, Shirelles, and the rest. Yes, it really is that good – it’s not some pale throw-back. It’s full-blooded and wonderful.
Second, this is survival music. It has contemporary meaning – it might be a sound that we associate with a certain era, but it is fresh and vital like Brubeck or Patsy Cline or Bob Marley. It’s not nostalgia – it’s mood and meaning.
There’s a backstory to this album that banishes nostalgia for me. Sharon Jones was a corrections officer at Rikers Island. She’s not some slick corporate trick pulled out of a conservatory. This album was supposed to come out in 2013, but they shelved it when Sharon Jones was diagnosed with Stage II pancreatic cancer. And the Dap-Kings have been around for years, and toured with Amy Winehouse, where I am certain they saw the catalog of contemporary woes. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings somehow bring fresh urgency to their music. There’s a seriousness that is way, way back in their music. It’s the same seriousness that infused the music of those Motown artists with a depth beyond the lyrics focused on dancing and dating in an age of blatant racism and segregation.
This is fun, completely enjoyable music. But we love it because the pain is real, and the survival is real. When Sharon Jones tells her man to “get out”, she might as well be singing about whatever is bothering you at work today. When she swaggers through “Stranger to My Happiness”, we share her determination to get on with life.
Maybe this is a bunch of BS, and I just like this album because it sounds great and reminds me of when I was a kid. I think there’s more, though, because it somehow feels a lot bigger than that.
The Deliberate Obfuscator also appreciates the energy and wants to see a live show. Yes, indeed, that would be a helluva good time!
Next Up: Slave Ambient, by War on Drugs