Listen: Give the People What They Want
Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (Daptone Records, 2014)
If what the people want is music with deep roots, honest emotions, and spiritual fire, then this album title is appropriate.
For 12 years now, Jones and the Dap-Kings have set the standard for a burgeoning revival of late ’60s to early ’70s soul and funk. The band’s bubbling guitar rhythms, popping bass, polyrhythmic percussion, and horn arrangements concoct a fusion of the MGs and Motown’s Funk Brothers with Tower of Power and Earth, Wind and Fire. Meanwhile, Jones’ mature, nuanced vocal style combines the polish of a Gladys Knight with the true grit of Aretha Franklin.
Give the People What They Want lives up to that standard. The opening track, “Retreat!,” suggests what might have happened if Aretha Franklin had been produced by Motown’s Holland, Dozier, Holland. And “We Get Along” plumbs the gospel roots of soul with a chorus that moans, “Through darkness and rain, sorrow and pain, we get along.”
The band has an affinity for the ’60s and ’70s tradition of R&B social commentary. In 2002, they protested the looming Iraq war with, “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?” On Give the People What They Want, the song “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” provides a moving anthem for the 99 percent. “Money don’t follow brains,” Jones sings. “Money don’t follow sweat. People don’t get what they deserve.”
Sharon Jones is a true soul survivor. Now 57, she was around when this style of music was new. But her survivor status was put to the test in the past year when she was diagnosed with cancer and went through a round of surgery and chemotherapy. Last October, the band filmed a video for “Stranger to My Happiness” in which Jones proudly displayed her chemo-inflicted bald head. That exemplifies the strength of faith and will that made Jones a middle-aged phenom, and it’s the same spirit that gives this music its timeless power.
This article appeared in the March 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 3, page 42).