Good God. That woman can bring it. I find myself saying something along these lines every time I listen to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. The band has been through a set of transformations and personnel changes since their initial forming in 1996. Enthusiasts have been conscious of their music, but until their 2006 release “100 Days, 100 Nights,” they have not been widely known. Their current notoriety can be calculated on two fronts: the first being the Dap Kings being the backing band for Amy Winehouse’s Grammy winning album and the second being their inclusion on the Dark Was the Night compilation which boasted indie rock hard hitters such as Justin Vernon (the man behind Bon Iver), The Dessner brothers (The National) and My Morning Jacket, only to name a few. If what a person can believe what he reads on the internet, their performance for the compilation at Radio City Music Hall was epic, if one were to hang a word on it.
Their inclusion might stick out like a sore thumb to some, or even many. The Dap Kings record entirely on an analogue system, their sound is the only proof needed. Their instruments are also only current to the mid-seventies. For any admirers of the infectious thump and groove of soul and funk music of the mid- sixties to the mid- seventies you will be right at home. Numerous people, whom I have played Sharon Jones and her boys for, have been quite surprised to find out they are currently making music. I can say in certainty when I stumbled upon them, I couldn’t quite believe it myself. To see Sharon Jones and the Dap King’s brand of neo-funk sandwiched between the Arcade Fire and Beirut on an album was strange.
Sharon Jones, the talisman of the group, is a fantastic story all herself. Born in Georgia in 1956, she grew up like many did in that day learning the ropes by singing in church. She attempted to break through the music she now sings when it was in its heyday. As she has attested in interviews, record executives told her she was, “too short, too black and too fat,” which completely overlooked her voice that will come through your speaker, look you right in the eye and break it down to you whether you like it or not. She could never breakthrough and settled for session singing and touring minimally as a backup singer. After she deemed the dream dead, she began working as a correctional officer on Rikers Island, a New York state penitentiary. Fans of Law and Order should be familiar. She had to wait until 1996, when she recorded backup vocals for funk legend Lee Fields. The gentlemen producing orchestrated her finding the Dap Kings. One of the men, Gabriel Roth started Daptone records of which the Dap Kings are the house band and which they are signed to. As it sits, Sharon is living her dream; traveling around the world thrilling live audiences with her mercurial live performance. She is the perfect front woman: a bright, deep soul voice accompanied by more energy than most are accustomed to. She will dance all up and down the stage, then do it again just because she can.
I’ll be the first to tell anybody how much I feel for soul and funk music. Otis Redding flat out taught me how to be a man, and my greatest dream is to play bass for Parliament in the late seventies. The following regards more so soul than funk, but the subject matter dealt with is striking. Soul singers sing about such pure, such noble ideas. They love the one their with, they tell it like it is, they don’t take no mess from anybody. They are who they are, because they are. Sharon Jones displays these ideas as any soul singer should, placed directly on her sleeve. But when the beauty really strikes is the humility amongst their set ways and sure talk. On previously mentioned “100 Days, 100 Nights” they have recorded what is, in my humble opinion, the gem of their catalogue. The song is called “Humble Me” and that pun in the appositive above was most definitely intended. A steady, hi-hat heavy drum beat brings in a jangly guitar riff, and before you are ready you are hit in the chest by a woman that was born to sing. She sings, “let me be grateful/ for all that I see and all that I have/ and everyone I meet/ make me grateful for my voice that I might lift you up/ and grateful for these old legs that I might jump and hum and shot oh yeah/ grateful for the music that puts my soul on high/ grateful for the people that come out to hear me every night/ oh please humble me/ don’t let me forget who I am.” Damn. Those are words that don’t need my, or anyone else’s, analyses because she just dropped some knowledge.
I’ve hurled enough superlatives towards one subject for one day. Please reader, seek her out and find out what she’s saying. I’d say this world needs some honesty and humility and I’ll tell you right now: this band will improve your world, if you let ‘em.