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What I’m listening to this week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

August 5, 2009

100 Days, 100 Nights – 2007

Sharon Jones is an old-school bluesy, gospel-tinged soul singer with a huge, magnificent voice and more character than you can shake a stick at.  She’s been singing since the 1970s, but only as recently as 2002 cut her first solo album with her backing band, The Dap-Kings.  The Dap-Kings are a group of ultra-talented musicians who provide everything from guitars to horns, and while they’re probably most recognizable now for work they’ve done with Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, they’ve been around the soul scene for years.  100 Days, 100 Nights, released in 2007, is the third album for Jones and The Dap-Kings, and it’s timing was perfect for capitalizing on the resurgence of retro funk and neo-soul acts.  As a result, 100 Days, 100 Nights was their breakthrough album, thanks mainly to the success of the enamoring first single “100 Days, 100 Nights” and also to Jones’ electrifying live performances.

More than most other singers you’re likely to hear, Jones infuses each and every word of the lyrics with real heart and soul.  She’s a true storyteller who enunciates everything through her big, brassy voice so that you can’t possibly miss her message.  And 100 Days, 100 Nights is filled with lessons on life and love, in which she dabbles with equal parts vulnerability, fortitude, and strength.  The music has to be just as robust to keep up with her, and The Dap-Kings match up to that in spades, with plenty of brass, strings, and drum work throughout the album.

“100 Days…” is the first track on the album and it begins with The Dap-Kings disintegrating horn intro before Jones chimes in with her soulful vocals.  The Kings lay in doo-wop style backing vocals all the way through and Jones ends the track on an impressively emotive glory note.  Another major track is the second song, “Nobody’s Baby”, which is thoroughly funk-filled and finds Jones in a defiant state of mind.  The music is tight and the horn work is inspired.  “Be Easy” is a contender for the best on 100 Days… as The Dap-Kings work a slow, blues-inspired funk groove and Jones doles out some valuable advice for over-eager men: “Don’t you know a woman don’t wanna/Don’t wanna man down on his knees/Runnin’ her down like a mouse at the cheese/You got to be metal if you want her affection/You get too excited and she’s off in another direction”.

“Let Them Knock” is also excellent.  Jones is sultry as she croons her devotion to her man and the music gets down and deep right along side her.   “Something’s Changed” turns a bit from that confidence and Jones changes her key to match the wind-knocked-out-of-you feeling the song tries to get across, displaying vulnerability and an indefinable impending quality that only a true pro could handle.  “Humble Me” takes that vulnerability to the next level in a slow and plodding musical track, while Jones invokes her delicate falsetto, practically begging: “Don’t be afraid to/Humble me, humble me/Don’t let me forget who I am” and the song hits definite gospel notes near the last third.

As good as 100 Days, 100 Nights is as an album, my thoughts are that it is slightly overproduced, and as result, you lose some of the unique sparkle that makes Sharon Jones so special.  I saw her live at the ACL festival last year and she commands the stage with presence, attitude, and fire that is extremely rare.  Maybe that’s impossible to capture on an album, but allowing the songs to be a little more raw would probably help.  As much life as she breaths into the lyrics on record, her live performances blow that out of the water.  Pick up 100 Days, 100 Nights to familiarize yourself with her work; then go check out her and the incredibly suave Dap-Kings live and in the flesh as soon as you can.

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