ALBUM REVIEW: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul Of A Woman (Daptone Records)

Formed in 2001, the American funk and soul label, Daptone  Records is, in terms of both recording methods and quality of output, the nearest we now have to classic Stax or Motown. So, when in the space of little over a year, the label lost not only their two biggest stars but two giants of the soul scene, full-stop, it could be considered something of a disaster.

Firstly, in November 2016, Sharon Jones succumbed to the cancer she had fought so bravely for several years, and then, in September this year, we also lost The Screaming Eagle of Soul,  Charles Bradley, also to cancer. Although both artists were relatively late starters in their professional careers, they both released records that, when measured against some of the finest soul albums of the past 60 years, comfortably hold their own. Cruelly, at the time of their premature deaths, both singers were at the peak of their powers with, undoubtedly, some of their best work still to come.

Including their 2015 Christmas album “It’s A Holiday Soul Party”,  “Soul Of A Woman” is Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings seventh studio album since they first entered the studio to record their, and Daptone Records, début record “Dap Dippin With Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings” back in 2002. Since then, although proudly flying the retro-soul tag in a generation full of manufactured, bland and generic singers often touted as “the next ———” (fill in blanks depending on record company desperation), Miss Jones proved, with each new release, that she was the real deal – and then some. On their last studio album proper – 2014’s “Give The People What They Want” –  armed with their best set of songs yet, they sounded more cohesive and fully formed than ever, despite Sharon’s illness, and subsequent treatment, delaying its release.

“Soul Of A Woman”, poignantly released on November 17th, 2017 to coincide with the first anniversary of Sharon Jones’ death is, sentimentality aside, a wonderful record. Of course, there is immense sadness that it’s a posthumous release, but, ably supported by the fabulous Dap-Kings as always, it comprises a set of eleven songs that will serve as a lasting tribute to her immense talent.

The album kicks off with a rousing call for world peace and unity in, “A Matter Of Time” followed by the terrific James Brown-style funk of “Sail On” (below) in which she offers redemption to a former lover who almost certainly doesn’t deserve it! “Give Me Some Time” and “Come And Be A Winner” take things down just a notch before the catchy as hell, Motown-esque “Rumors” ends the more upbeat first-half of the album.

Side two, despite being more ballad-heavy, is still full of positive vibes. The Hammond rich Southern Soul of “Pass Me By” is gorgeous but lovelorn, and, with a passing nod to Rose Royce’s “Wishing On A Star”, “These Tears (No Longer For You) sees our leading lady displaying her trademark strength in dealing with the bad-boys in her romantic liaisons. The languid, summery “Searching For A New Day” could have been lifted from a Style Council greatest-hits album; the soaring “When I Saw Your Face” is a straight-up tale of love at first sight and “Girl! (You Got To Forgive Him), could have, with a little push in the right direction, been lifted from a Bond movie – and how great would Sharon Jones singing a Bond theme have sounded!

And yet, for all its positivity and upbeat grooviness, when the last, plaintive notes of the beautiful and moving gospel hymn “Call On God” (below), that Sharon wrote forty years ago when singing with the Universal Church of God choir,  fade away, I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

RIP Miss Jones – the world is certainly a less joyful place without you in it


2016 – The Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year (Part One – No’s 20-11)

Here it is then, the, ahem, eagerly anticipated Acoustic Egg Box Top 20 Albums Of The Year. Despite there being some great records released during 2016, it was a forgettable year for many reasons, not least for the fact that we saw the untimely deaths of some true musical legends, and in my book at least, the truest and most legendary of them all, David Bowie. However, let’s look on the bright side, at least the year remained largely Sam Smith free…………..

20: GREGORY PORTER – Take Me To The Alley (Blue Note)      The follow-up to 2013’s platinum-selling “Liquid Spirit” sees Gregory Porter eschew some of his overtly jazz-based compositions for an altogether more soulful and at times funky set. The exceptional voice is still, first and foremost, his biggest asset, but for those of you put off by the “j” word, start with the album’s lead single “Steam” and ease yourself into what is a very rewarding listen.

19: NICK WATERHOUSE – Never Twice (Innovative Leisure)      The third album from Nick Waterhouse, California’s blue-eyed soul/ R&B revivalist sees him ploughing a familiar, but increasingly confident and assured retro-furrow, throughout his best set of songs yet. Although late 50’s/ early 60’s influences abound, “Katchi”, a funky duet with kindred spirit Leon Bridges sounds modern and fresh – he also covers Dylan’s “Baby I’m In The Mood For You” with aplomb.

18: THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS – Everything You’ve Come To Expect (Domino)                                                                              Although there are still welcome echoes of the Scott Walker-esque baroque orchestral musings so evident on their superb 2008 debut The Age Of The Understatement, they’ve been toned down somewhat in favour of a more straightforward, but still melodically strong, lyrically smart and lushly produced set of solid pop songs.

17: THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Third World Pyramid (A Recordings)                                                                      The 15th album since BJM’s early 90’s formation stands proudly beside their best work but for those of you still unaware of them, the title of the album’s best track “Like Describing Colors To A Blind Man On Acid” is all you need to know! Great tunes, nods to psych era Beatles, a hypnotic 9-minute version of Nina Simone’s “Assignment Song” included, “Third World Pyramid” is a triumphant, late-career delight!

16: CHARLES BRADLEY – Changes (Daptone)                                    The Screaming Eagle of Soul landed his third LP in 2016 and, as bonkers as it sounds, chose a 1972 Black Sabbath cover as the lead single and album title. The fact is though that it was far from bonkers, it was an inspired choice taken to a new level by a man who sweats soul from every pore. The whole 11 track album is an emotional, passionate tour de force that old JB himself would have been proud of.

15: WHYTE HORSES – Pop Or Not (CRC)                                      When you stuff your 17 track debut full of seemingly jarring ideas and sounds there’s a chance that you risk a lack of identity. However, lead Horse and music obsessive Dom Thomas has managed to create a whole very much greater than its sunny psych, electronica, baggy, acid house, Brazilian The Go! Team and Stone Roses parts! In “The Snowfalls” they also released one of the tracks of the year.

14: WHITNEY – Light Upon The Lake (Secretly Canadian)  Winsome, melancholic, pastoral, dreamy – yep, this debut is all of these things but it’s also so much more. The 10 tracks weigh in at just over 30 minutes but in that short time you are transported to a sunny place, maybe even Laurel Canyon, where a stoned Neil Young is woozily joined by “Ventura Highway” era America, plus added atmospheric trumpet flourishes. Put this on and chill the fuck out.

13: MAVIS STAPLES – Livin’ On A High Note (Anti)                          After Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy produced her 2 previous efforts, the honour this time is bestowed on singer/ songwriter M Ward who has excelled in bringing out the best in our Mave’s ultra-soulful, bourbon soaked vocal delivery. Songwriting credits go to luminaries including Valerie June, Ben Harper, Justin Vernon, Aloe Blacc and Nick Cave with the album’s most affecting track “Jesus Lay Down Beside Me”.

12: ARVIDSON & BUTTERFLIES – Arvidson & Butterflies (Kool Kat Music)                                                                                      Although new to me, Sweden’s Roger Arvidson is a veteran of the Gothenburg music scene and when his band, Arvidson & Butterflies, can produce power-pop anthems this good, the rest of you need to know about them too! Over the course of these 12 hummable Beatles, Byrds, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and Tom Petty influenced gems, this album became one of 2016’s best musical surprises.

11: TRASHCHAN SINATRAS – Wild Pendulum (Red River)          26 years on from debut LP “Cake”, Scotland’s woefully underrated Trashcan Sinatras gave us “Wild Pendulum”. Although by far the most melodic and tuneful album in my list, labelling it as “jangle-pop” would be doing them a huge disservice. So, for an idea of what to expect, go straight to “Best Days On Earth”, a masterful slab of perfect pop that Aztec Camera or Prefab Sprout would be proud to call their own.