Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Review: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights

I should be rejoicing at the ascendancy of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. MTV play. A feature in The New York Times. A 3 and a half star review in the Los Angeles Times (out of four). I am happy that after toiling in obscurity for years, she's getting more attention and hopefully, (much) bigger checks.

But after listening to her new album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, I'm left cold by her once again. She and the Dap-Kings recreate a lovingly faithful version of soul music circa 1966 - great horn lines, nice walking bass, jaunty rhythm guitar that falls in the "right" spots and lovely upright piano. And Jones' voice projects a gritty charm that makes it impossible not to root for her.

Unfortunately though, the greatness one hears in 100 Days, 100 Nights is in the echo of the era it recreates, not in the album itself. The album is a collection of thoroughly unremarkable songs that, while enjoyable to hear, do not dig deep enough emotionally to be truly affecting. They occur as part "my man did me wrong" and "you're going to pay for doing me wrong," all of it feeling more like an exercise in soul rather than actually being soulful. And while a great soul singer can make the most banal lyric feel like a Biblical truth, Jones is a fine singer, not a great one, and here, that makes all the difference.

There are some high points. "Tell Me" is a lovely piece of Motown feeling pop-soul that gets its point across with welcome brevity, and "Nobody's Baby" is a fine echo of Linda Lyndell's 1968 hit for Stax, "What A Man," which was later covered by Salt-N-Pepa featuring En Vogue and turned into the smash "Whatta Man."

If Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are going to capitalize on their moment in the spotlight, it is going to have to be on the stage, because 100 Days, 100 Nights is an album that skates on the surface of soulfulness without penetrating the soul itself. If they are to take their game up to the next level, they're going to have to go far deeper.


Preston Lauterbach said...

I like your distinction here. Without breaking some new ground, Sharon and the Daps are destined for a one and done Squirrel Nut Zippers kind of run.
It's not as if there'll be another soul revival to capitalize on.

Anonymous said...

I sadly agree with you. That said, have you actually seen the band live? I was born in '75 and never had the chance to see the stuff they are parroting/channeling/copping/whatever. It's as if for the first time for me. Anyway, live it is absolutely revelatory and amazing. Powerful as hell. All the stuff that feels stiff and maybe a little contrived on the records is sincere as hell in a live context. And it is fun for everyone. Sharon Jones is a great centerpiece. She gets the whole crowd in on the play. And it is a bit of a play, isn't it? Reviving something from the past without irony? But you can tell that she and the band are playing their parts with as much feeling and love for the music and period as possible. I think you get my meaning. Check it out live if you can. It's well worth your while.

Michael Verity said...

I think you're asking to much. When a style of music is created for the first time, it has the bright glow of originality. As the style matures, it wrinkles and ages, just like people. Sharon Jones lack of luster comes from tired ears, I dare say, rather than lack of style. Whatever your tastes today (Sharon Jones? Joss Stone? Amy Winehouse) they'll not compare with Nina or Millie or Aretha (nor should they be).