It’s 2014, and I feel like I gotta fight. I gotta fight sickness and paranoia and laziness and low-level corruption from all corners, inside and out. I gotta fight defeatism and mediocrity, impossibility and the inevitable. And I’m glad to say I have this person and these songs — off their latest, Give The People What They Want — to help whip me into shape:
“Now I See”: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings have gotten poppier with every record, but what’s never remotely slowed down is the innovation of their dumbfoundingly refined musicianship. More and more, the Dap-Kings experience is not just a retro refuge, but a miraculous extension of the rarefied old sounds that are driving things. The intuitive magic of this band (ably led as ever by bass prodigy Bosco Mann) have kept apace with Jones’ continued advancement as a vocalist. They combine forces here to sledgehammer down on a pair of spark-throwing signals, crossed to all hell. This timeless-sounding number should be on the radio, or what’s the point in having radio anymore?
“Slow Down, Love”: Tipping back the glass. Toes in the cool water. Warm night. Careless whisper hello to the silence… Where am I? Do I have to leave? Let it drift…
“Making Up And Breaking Up”: It’s so often the little things with this group. In this case it’s that subtle, hushed bed of organ drone making an already dreamy confection into something haunted and cinematic. On the chorus of this, Dapettes (Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan) particularly shine, embodying the aural equivalent of the clouds framing Ms. Jones on the cover.
“Retreat”: This took me aback when I first heard it last year, and it still gives me the willies. With the bells, it’s like backmasked Santa on a toy-smashing rampage. On the other hand, you’ve got Lady Sharon laying down a serious torrent of fury and not taking any time to mess around.
“You’ll Be Lonely”: Again, there’s that small detail. A simple repeating, flanged electric guitar figure and it’s like you’ve loved this song for ages. The answer vocal by the Dapettes on the chorus is strangely separate in the mix to drive the point home. Folks have a way of getting put in their place on this record. And as the unmatched poise of these admonitions is so stridently compelling, those caught in the crossfire needn’t consider resisting. One can’t dance on one’s own grave, but now you can at least dance to the music that’ll be playing. And the punishment continues with…
“People Don’t Get What They Deserve”: The titular refrain bursts out like a jarring news-alert bulletin, leaving plenty of room for shock and awe, and little for any doubt. The righteously indignant sentiment is an interesting contrast to the album title, just as the brisk, wistful strut of the verses works against the chorus.
A lot of records come and go. So it’s a relief that there’s an act out there that has stayed true to its original vision while constantly adding new wrinkles to keep us restless music lovers interested. A hard-funk group, steeped in tradition, that’s unafraid to make pop music that’s as mature and clear-eyed as spectral and full of wonder, that inspires sheer joy and passion album after album and show after show. Give The People What They Want is an especially bright new feather in the cap. It’s towering, tempestuous, addictive, and available in a beautiful shade of marbled blue. Maybe we don’t deserve it, but it’s here to own us just the same.