Take it from me: with our purist hearts and crate-digging proclivities, we true-blue soul believers and bright-eyed funk freaks tend to be a pretty devoted lot, but Brooklyn Stax-Motown revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings inspire a level of commitment that would make even Dr. Phil blush. A friend of mine loves to tell me about the time she spent her last $15 to get into their show in Austin, Texas. There she was, penniless, thirsty, and without a paycheck in sight for another week, and none of it mattered. "Why would it?" she whoops and grins as she recalls that night of empty pockets and high spirits. "I danced my ass off, honey! Money who cares?"
It's a story worth mentioning, since so much of what makes Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings such an electrifying force comes from their ability to whisk listeners away from their day-to-day worries while delivering glorious emotional, hip-loosening release. Man problems, woman problems, cash flow problems these headaches happen to everybody, and Jones and her eight partners in greasy-groove know-how are no exception, as such songs as "My Man Is a Mean Man" attest. Still, soul music's all about catharsis through a band's connection with its audience on a feel-it-in-the-gut level, and what better way to make that communion than with the inarguably simple message "There ain't no troubles we can't dance away!"
This declaration has resonated with so many listeners because it has been articulated flawlessly. Never mind that the Dap-Kings have been catching new fans since they were tapped to back Amy Winehouse on her Back to Black (Island, 2006). Every chicken-scratch guitar, every fat-bottom bass line, every popping horn arrangement is a triple-take-inducing transmission from a predisco soul universe a rare event in today's more technology-driven neosoul market. The Dap-Kings led by bassist-producer Bosco Mann have clearly ingested every ounce of '60s and '70s R&B and funk, and their authenticity-prizing take on the sweat-soaked rhythms of James Brown's beloved house band, the JB's, has yielded a righteously old-school backdrop for Jones's mighty pipes. In a live setting, the JB's comparison is tough to miss. Swiss-clock precise but blazing with passion, these workhorses are unstoppable and a joy to behold.
And those mighty pipes I mentioned? Jones can do it all, whether she's snapping and snarling like Etta James, giving the gospel lowdown à la Aretha Franklin, or sassing away like the second coming of Lyn Collins, and she rightfully deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Bettye LaVette and Irma Thomas, while we're at it. Endowed with a full-throated, bottomless-lunged attention grabber of a voice, Jones can slide effortlessly from tender, sweet-lipped supplications to tougher-than-nails put-downs the latter ability possibly stemming from her years of employment as a prison guard often within the same song. A master interpreter, she has not only reconfigured the Woody Guthrie folk ditty "This Land Is Your Land" into a slinky call for social equality but also scraped away the cheesy gloss of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" to reveal the stinging nettles lying underneath.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' recently released third album, 100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone), is a stirring document from a band at the height of its powers. All of the familiar funk and fire are there, and the addition of bluesier elements on tracks such as "Humble Me" and "Let Them Knock" demonstrates that they still have plenty of ideas to kick around. Best of all, they've never sounded as smoky, as sultry, as they do on this disc. If you haven't yet offered up your heart to these folks, here's your chance.