Album Review: Sharon Jones And The Dap Kings’ “Give The People What They Want”

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Anyone who witnessed the performance by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings at the 2011 Nelsonville Music Festival will testify to the band’s unbelievably tight sound and their lead singer’s vitality, endurance, energy and genuine soulfulness. For my money, that was the one act not to be missed.

Many reviews have classified the outfit as soul revivalists, but Jones would be the first to argue that you can’t revive something that never went away. In a recent Reuters interview, she stated “I’m a soul singer, not a retro-singer.”

The band’s sound does harken back to an earlier time when Motown and Stax artists dominated the pop charts and Jones was a young girl honing her James Brown impression.

Her story is right out of 20 Feet from Stardom: A longtime part-time background singer, forced to work days as a corrections officer at Riker’s Island and a Wells Fargo armored car guard. Finally in 2002, she cut her first sides with The Dap-Kings on their own independent label, Daptone.

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings released their long delayed fifth album on Jan. 14. Give the People What They Want, recorded last year, was set for an August release date but postponed when Jones was diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer.

Her final chemotherapy session was on New Year’s Eve. Now Jones is back with a vengeance, promoting the upcoming global tour and the new album with a media blitz, including TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, along with a radio interview on NPR.

It would be great if, instead of the prefab dreck that tops the pop charts, what the people really wanted was this kind of honest, well-crafted R&B. The band does have a loyal and devoted following, but the only thing that may disappoint them is that there are only 10 songs included on this short 30-minute collection.

Give the People What They Want kicks off with two songs penned by the producer, Bosco Mann: “Retreat!” and “Stranger To My Happiness.” Throughout the album, many of Jones’ influences are evident, from Aretha and Otis to Sam Cooke and James Brown.

The Stax-inspired horn arrangements are first rate and The Dapettes (Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan) are reminiscent of The Supremes on the call-and-response vocals of another Mann original, “People Don’t Get What They Deserve.”

Not all the songs on the new album match the high caliber 100 Days, 100 Nights (their best work) but the opening tracks, along with “Making Up and Breaking Up” and “Get Up and Get Out” stand up to anything in the band’s catalog and, for that matter, anything in the annals of American Soul music.

Mark Hellenberg is WOUB’s music director. You can hear him weeknights on WOUB-FM’s Crossing Boundaries.