Saturday, November 24, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1203: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

I’m in the middle of a nice long weekend of my own making. Yesterday I had no plans and was able to just chill out and listen to music outside of the Odyssey’s rules. I gave a listen to a couple of modern folk albums, one of which I liked and one of which I didn’t, and then I changed things up with some Warren Zevon (1989’s “Transverse City”).

But now we must return to our official journey…and Ms. Sharon Jones.

Disc 1203 is… Naturally
Artist: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Year of Release: 2005

What’s up with the Cover? Ms. Sharon Jones, chillin’ in an easy chair. That lamp looks nice, but if I were her I’d get out of that room before the whole thing gets overtaken by line animation. Turning a woman with the bigger-than-life personality of Sharon Jones into a line drawing would be a crime.

How I Came To Know It: Originally through my buddy Nick buying a different album (“I Learned The Hard Way”) that I loved. “Naturally” was me, now hooked thanks to Nick, digging through her discography.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Sharon Jones albums and they are all awesome. However, this is the part where we rank that awesomeness and “Naturally” can only manage the bronze – third, if you’re numerically inclined. As this is the last Sharon Jones album in my collection, here’s a full recap:

  1. I Learned the Hard Way: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 629)
  2. 100 Days, 100 Nights: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 803)
  3. Naturally: 4 stars (reviewed right here)
  4. Give the People What They Want: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 608)
Ratings:  4 stars

“Naturally” is a throwback to the heyday of soul in the late sixties and early seventies, but like all other Dap-King albums, it never feels derivative. Much like Sharon in that old chair on cover, the music settles itself down beside its early inspirations so comfortably if you were to come into the room and see them all lined up on a couch you wouldn’t know who was modern and who was historical.

So why listen to Sharon Jones when you could just go to the original source material? A couple of songs into “Naturally” you’ll realize the foolishness of the question. You listen to Sharon Jones because she is every bit as good as the source material. There’s no reason to choose.

When you have a big soul band (the Dap-Kings have eight members in addition to Jones) you have to be tight. If someone comes in early or late, you’re going to notice. Fortunately, the Dap-Kings never let you down. I have a lot of music in a lot of styles and I can’t think of a band that plays more seamlessly together than these guys.

But in soul music, being tight doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t work the magic of the pocket. Again, the Dap-Kings do not disappoint. “Natural Born Lover” starts with just Jones and drummer Homer Steinweiss dropping the perfect rhythm for a couple of bars and then the whole band arrives en masse. Guitarist Binky Griptite drops a funky rhythm on guitar, Bosco Mann kills it on the bass and the horn section adds flourishes everywhere they belong and nowhere they don’t. The whole thing has that satisfying feel of a gymnast sticking a landing or an NFL wideout tapping his toes in on a sideline; it just feels right

Natural Born Lover” is fun lyrically as well, as Jones extolls the virtues of her man in the sack. We learn he is an ‘NBL’ (natural born lover) who ‘TCB’s (takes care of business). It is impossible to sit still with this song playing. You gotta let your backbone slide and your head bob, even on a bus full of strangers (I regret nothing!). The song is sneaky-complex as well. On the surface, it is just a killer groove, while underneath a lot of clever flourishes of horn, drum and guitar added in artful splashes that never distract from the core of the song.

Against this backdrop of excellence Jones is free to belt it out, flowing around the pocket to give the songs that extra swing without wrecking the groove. It is a rare skill. It isn’t something you can teach, it’s something you either have or you don’t. Frank Sinatra has it. Dean Martin has it. Ozzy Osbourne has it. And Sharon Jones has it as well.

The record has a nice mix of slow romantic crooners like “You’re Gonna Get It” and up-tempo booty shakers like “Your Thing Is a Drag” giving the record as a whole a nice ebb and flow as well.

Fun feature that downloaders don't get to enjoy: the liner notes include the astrological sign for all the band members. I was not surprised to read that band leader and bassist Bosco Mann is a Leo.

The songs are all written by Mann with the exception of a rendition of the Woody Guthrie song “This Land Is Your Land” that is the best version I have ever heard. Chances are you have heard this song already – it is played over the opening credits of the George Clooney/Anna Kendrick movie “Up In the Air”. If you liked it do yourself a favour and get the rest of the album.

Best tracks: How Do I Let A Good Man Down?, Natural Born Lover, You’re Gonna Get It, How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?, This Land Is Your Land, Your Thing Is a Drag

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