That Sweet, Sweet Soul
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings bring something fierce
By Mark Lopez
Simply put, soul music doesn't require overthinking. And the fact that the genre has seen somewhat of a resurgence isn't necessarily a cakewalk along a dusty road. Because this prominent style—which has been helmed by such greats as James Brown, Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson—hasn't been without its own struggle. Over the past few decades, digital recording has become the main point of entry for producers and sound engineers. Don't get me wrong, it's not like analog became strictly a thing of the past, but as time has gone on, it's become more of a rarity to capture the sound and aesthetic of old soul and R&B—you know, the kind you'd get from digging out those old Motown compilations.
Kyle Dean Reinford
But soul group Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are game-changers. In a music industry rife with pop chart-toppers and Auto-Tune, their type of music is not only indispensable, it's a long time coming. Their latest album Give the People What They Want showed that excellent analog music is still being created, and the sound many thought was long gone is still in the building. It's just reformed under the tutelage of the folks over at Daptone Records.
The label, founded by Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman, describes itself as a “Brooklyn-based family of soul-drenched talent [that] channels the spirits of bygone powerhouses like Stax and Motown into gilded moments of movement and joy.” And there really is no better description. After signing such soul and R&B talents as Charles Bradley—his cover of Black Sabbath's “Changes” is almost too good—the aforementioned Dap-Kings, The Budos Band and The Sugarman 3, it's no wonder they're catching on with mainstream audiences. But let's pause on “Changes” for a moment. Bradley's take on the rock ballad captures the pain of loss, but his vocals give it something Sabbath lacked—a primal spirit igniting from a dark place, a drop of promise lingering in the muck. It's pure power.
That's the thing about soul. I once heard a quote comparing soul and country music, differentiating them by their determination. Country music focuses on loss from the perspective of a person who is lamenting that it's gone forever ... that feeling of complete and utter helplessness when love has collapsed like a sack of bones left by a lonesome highway. But with soul music, there's still hope. There's still a chance it can always return.
Most of the stories being written about Jones and company center around their last LP being delayed due to her cancer diagnosis, instead of focusing on the music itself. Sure she's gone through a struggle, but that skirmish has developed into a sound that is at times heartbreaking (see “Slow Down Love”), but it's mostly the musings of a woman that is still living, still singing—still fighting. Just like soul music itself. It's still here. Still pulsating underneath. And it's this energy she'll bring to Santa Fe's Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 W. San Francisco). Fans old and new will bear witness to a woman who not only draws from music of the past, but provides her own spin on it, making it fresh, untainted and joyful. A sound reborn from urgency, but grown out of emotional battles. Gotta love that sweet soul music.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Tuesday, March 18, 7:30pm
Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 W. San Francisco St.
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