January 14th saw the release of ‘Give the People What They Want’, the fifth studio album in Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ discography of classic soul revivalism. Despite its release date being pushed back to the New Year after her diagnosis of cancer in 2013, Sharon Jones returns to the stage to, yet again, claim her title as one of today’s best soul acts.
Album opener ‘Retreat’ immediately makes its presence well and truly known: Jones is not a lady to be messed with. The commanding horns and punchy lyrics - ‘play with me and you’ll play with fire’- demonstrate the raw energy that is injected into every project the band undertake, and represents the vivaciousness of the leading lady. It is easy to interpret this Motown-infused cut as dominating and defying against last year’s hardships, despite it being finalised before the diagnosis. Perhaps this is what makes this album so successful: the themes of heartbreak and heroism that have an undeniable universal appeal.
‘Give the People What They Want’, although not a total revolution in the band’s sound, displays more variation in song-writing than its 2011 predecessor, ‘Soul Time!’. Driving the LP is Jones’ powerful voice, soaring and sailing through triumph and heartache, encompassing, not overshadowing, every instrument of the Dap Kings into one sublime entity. Whilst the album flourishes in the fiery, brass-driven soul classics such as ‘Stranger to My Happiness’ and ‘Now I See’, the summery and kaleidoscopic refrain in ‘Making Up and Breaking Up’ is refreshingly reminiscent of the less rhythmic Uptown Soul of the early sixties, and perfectly displays the shimmering vocals of backing duo ‘the Dapettes’. Similarly, the silky ballad ‘Slow Down, Love’ winds down the album from a melancholic groove, and fades it out to the end of an evening.
Certainly the production has developed since ‘Naturally’ and ‘Dap Dippin’ With…’ back in the early 2000s, diverging somewhat from the grainy analogue sound to something more pristine. Although the push to refine their sound has by no means erased the soulful sixties strut that is so characteristic of Jones and the band, and to cling on to past production styles would be ridiculous, I can’t help but slightly (and only very slightly) pine for the old vintage crackle that was more prominent in their 2001 songs like ‘Cut That Line’ and ‘Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut’.
Nevertheless, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have yet again created an album that exudes the same scintillating energy as their live performances. They have given us what we want: dance-inducing soul rhythms, heartfelt and compelling lyrics, all embodied in a vigour and joy that transcend its sixties roots. The album is timeless, and long may it remain so.
Words: Josie Roberts