Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

100 Days, 100 Nights (Daptone ’07) Rating: A-
I almost never listen to the radio anymore, but a few weeks back I listened to Fordham’s radio station, WFUV (who I had previously talked about in my David Gray review). They were interviewing one Sharon Jones, who was recounting her experiences as a former prison corrections officer. She sounded like a fun, down to earth woman, and when they played one of her songs from her new album (her third one but I haven’t heard the other two yet) I was instantly hooked. Since then I’ve heard quite a bit about Sharon Jones, as other reviewers and fans seem to be picking up on and digging what she’s doing. Apparently she previously worked with Lou Reed, and her smoking band the Dap-Kings backed Amy Winehouse on her popular and acclaimed Back To Black album, but with that side information out of the way, let’s talk about 100 Days, 100 Nights, shall we? Simply put, this is a modern album with a classic old school soul sound. Clearly Sharon & The Dap-Kings are well-versed with the sounds of Stax Records, as these are brassy, sassy soul songs. Jones herself, no spring chicken at 51 years of age, is a big-voiced soul belter who is heard to best effect on several tracks where she really let's loose, such as “Nobody’s Baby,” “Let Them Knock,” and “Humble Me.” The terrific title track, with its memorably prominent male backing vocals, and “Something Changed” are both bluesier and are resolutely adult, but Jones is one tough woman who, despite whatever lovelorn trials and tribulations may befall her, makes you believe that she’ll come out on top in the end. As for the Dap-Kings, including primary songwriters Bosco Mann (bass) and Homer Steinweiss (drums), they’re a tight, funky, organic unit who present an instantly likeable, easily appealing, very much alive sound. True, a few of these songs fail to stand out as individual compositions, but they still sound plenty agreeable while they’re playing, and the upbeat pop of “Tell Me” has got to be the best Motown pastiche I’ve heard in years. Really, it’s amazing how a simple formula of putting talented musicians together playing real instruments, without slicking up the sound too much, using drum machines or any other unnecessary fake accoutrements, and most of all without any “guest rappers” appearing, can make a decades old sound feel so fresh and invigorating. Of course, Jones is the primary attraction, and she’s quite an impressive singer, whether on the more briskly paced “Keep On Looking” or on the spiritually inclined “Answer Me,” which features the band’s standard punchy horns but also gospel backing vocals (female this time). Again, the songs aren't always memorable, especially in the middle of the album, but the way Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings puts them across is always fun, and I plan on checking out her previous albums pronto.

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