Genre-bending musicians bring world to Boston

by Beacon Staff • November 7, 2007

The line is taken from the song "Tell Me," one of ten luscious tracks off Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' 100 Days 100 Nights, an album that announces the arrival of the newest diva in town.,"Now I'm here at last and I mean to stay," Sharon Jones sings over the smooth sounds of an eight-piece backup band.

The line is taken from the song "Tell Me," one of ten luscious tracks off Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' 100 Days 100 Nights, an album that announces the arrival of the newest diva in town. Move over Amy Winehouse, because Jones is no longer a backup singer.

Unlike twenty something artists, like Joss Stone and Winehouse, who are attempting to revive retro funk, jazz and RB, Jones experienced firsthand the arrival of these genres on the mainstream scene. Mixing musical history with her own, she began her career singing gospel music in the church of her hometown, Augusta, Georgia, also the home of the late godfather of soul, James Brown. Brown is listed as one of the Sharon Jones band's biggest influences on their official MySpace page along with Otis Redding, Eddie Bo and Wilson Pickett.

Brown's tale of success, recording as young as 23 and selling millions of albums, is in sharp contrast to Jones' story. A short biography found on the Daptone Records Web site sheds light on her long road to fame, starting with her family's move to Brooklyn, NY when Jones was in her teens. It was there that she immersed herself in the funk and disco scene. She did uncredited backup vocals for various gospel, soul, disco and blues artists.

Without employment, Jones worked as a corrections officer at Ryker's Island, and it wasn't until 1996 that she crossed paths with Desco records, known for its indie-soul and funk music. She started singing with Desco's house band, The Soul Providers, earning her the title of "Queen of Funk" across the Atlantic. In 2002, Jones released her first full-length album, Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings on Daptone Records with their house-band, The Dap-Kings. This was followed by Naturally in 2005, also with the Dap-Kings.

Led by bassist and producer Bosco Mann, The Dap-Kings includes two guitars, a tenor and a baritone saxophone, trumpet, bass, congas and bongos. They are the band responsible for the retro beats on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black album, which spawned the hit "Rehab". From there, the Dap-Kings went on to be featured as the house band at the MTV Video Music Awards.

According to an article in the LA Times, despite constructing the sound that Winehouse is now famous for, Jones' newfound fame is due to the young British star. Since working with Amy, the group has been featured in The New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly named them one of "The Ten Most Exciting Artists Right Now" in their Fall Music 2007 issue.

But ultimately, it is their sound that makes them irresistible. Think of the powerful voice of Aretha Franklin, the Motown sound of The Supremes, the Jazzy style of Eddie Bo and, of course, James Brown's soul and funk with some gospel roots, all rolled into one. With that you have Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.

But they don't stop there in re-creating that retro groove artists of the late '50s, '60s and early '70s were famous for. In order to obtain the scratchy, record-like sound, 100 Days 100 Nights was recorded in a studio outfitted with vintage equipment. With the infectious beats and almost ragtime-esque piano rolls of 100 Days 100 Nights, it's not difficult to catch onto their wavelength. This album transports you back to a time when beehives were in and music was played on vinyl 45s.

"You've got to feeel it! In your bones, your heart, in everything and everywhere!" Sharon declares on Daptone's Web site. It is impossible not to feel the beat of the music and the extreme energy of Sharon Jones. Her timbre is seasoned with over 35 years of experience. At times it is as smooth as the all-too-short trumpet solo on "Answer Me." At others it is raspy, adding spice to the jazzy accompaniment.

Each track is bold and unique ranging from traditional Motown to modern gospel music. From the blaring, somewhat exotic trumpet solo at the beginning of the title track to the final anguished plea on the album's last song "Answer Me," you cannot help but want to jump up out of your seat and move to the funky rhythm.

Tracks such as "Nobody's Baby" and "Tell Me," with their heavy trumpet and piano sounds, reflect Sharon's devotion to the style of James Brown along with several "Woo!"s and "Mmm"s sprinkled throughout. "Tell Me" is also reminiscent of something that might have landed on one of the Supremes' earlier albums. The funkier,"Keep On Looking" breaks away from the strong southern soul influence of the album and adds exotic, somewhat breezy flavor.

Jones defines versatility; songs like "Humble Me" and "Answer Me" are comprised of gospel lyrics set to a blues accompaniment. "Be Easy," which has strains of that ragtime piano hiding in the background of the instrumental section, is the most polished track on the album, reflecting a more Brooklyn or New York influence, while "When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle" is more grainy and somewhat fierce with a strong low beat.

During "Let Them Knock," Jones' voice becomes wonderfully sensual and husky. However, it is "Humble Me" that showcases the wide range to Jones' voice. The song is a sort-of prayer, asking God to keep her modest. She recognizes all of the problems in the world and is expressing her gratitude for all that she has.

She soulfully pleads, "Make me grateful for my voice Lord, so I might life you up."

However, we are the ones that should be grateful for a voice as rich as Jones' and the brilliantly complementary sound of The Dap-Kings.

Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings will be playing on Nov. 9 at The Middle East downstairs at 8 p.m.