If you like your soul smooth and slick, this album is absolutely not for you. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings remain as dedicated as ever to the cause of analogue production, ensemble recording and real instruments, and the result is as close to genuine late-1960s soul as you could hope for. On a first, casual listen, in fact, you might assume this to be a vintage recording, rich with the urban sassiness, belting gospel-tinged vocals and the percussive horns that are so evocative of the era.
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There's a reason these are the leading lights of the soul and funk revival scene – the go-to band for musicians and producers seeking that retro vibe – and it's because they take things further than simple pastiche. Even those who don't follow the revival movement will have heard the Dap-Kings' syncopated horns and Hammond on albums such as Mark Ronson's Version and Amy Winehouse's Back to Black. It's a style that's launched a plethora of imitators, but the difference here is Sharon Jones – discovered as a backing singer and ramped up to become Daptone's leading talent.
Jones’s voice is rich, strident and powerful with the experience of her 55 years – sometimes too powerful; in this mainly upbeat album, the dynamic range sees few moments of genuine tenderness, something at which her 1960s predecessors such as Marlena Shaw or Barbara Lewis excelled. Apart from that quibble, though, she is compellingly, authentically soulful.
The songs' themes are familiar and authentic too, from the "I will survive" defiance of New Shoes ("I'm gonna walk out that door") to the social protest of What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes or last year's Christmas single, Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects. It's not just the themes that are familiar, though: in fact, most of these are tracks that have been heard before, either released as B-sides and in compilations or, as the album notes put it, "gems that have been staples in the Dap-Kings' live shows for years but have been heretofore unavailable". That's not a bad thing – they're great tracks, and not on any of the Dap-Kings' previous albums – but long-time followers of the band might feel slightly hard-done-by.
Equally, while there are no duds here – each song is pitch-perfect in terms of musicianship, scene-setting and style, and accomplished lyrically – there are few genuinely catchy riffs either; it's only after several listens that you might start to hum along. Longer and Stronger is one of those, a solid, stoic number that plays well each time, and the lively New Shoes is another.
Significantly, though, the best song on the album is the Shuggie Otis cover Inspiration Information, from his 1974 album of that name, a gorgeously light track by one of the greatest songwriters of the era, to whom the genre was a means to an end, rather than the end in itself that Jones and the Dap-Kings see in soul. You can't recreate vision like Otis's, but in its absence, this joyful revisiting of one of popular music's greatest moments is worth many hours of your time.
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