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Wednesday, 24 October 2007 00:00

Sharon Jones conjures up the heart of soul

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By Chris Cooper

Sharon Jones and her amazing band of funk/soul revivalists were responsible for one of the happiest musical misunderstandings I’ve ever experienced. Having seen her previous CD filed in the blues section of the local record shop, with its wholly authentic late 60’s packaging style, grainy, off center cover photo and altogether goofy back cover notes (including a visual diagram to help you learn the latest dance move that’s ‘taking the nation by storm,’ the Dap Dip) I could do nothing but feel safe in the assumption that it was a reissue of some obscure soul gem from back in the day.

Upon giving the disc a spin, every beat, gritty horn stab, every sweaty and gut-wrenching note from Jones simply smacked of vintage soul, as in absolutely not recorded and performed at any point in the last 30 years or so.

Nope. The giveaway was realizing that one of the songs, though drastically reinterpreted, was actually the Janet Jackson hit “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” So enamored was I with the Dap-Kings that my first thought was “OK, so Jackson must’ve covered this version... yeah, that’s it.” Wrong again. Jones and band work the kind of heartbroken soul and naughty funk that one would assume had long been lost in the waves of sterile, digitized production that redefined such music years ago. And so profound and authentic was the band’s delivery that even a huge song from the pinnacle of R&B’s mid-eighties glossy production sounded more theirs than Janet’s.

100 Days, 100 Nights is a continuation of Jones and Dap-Kings anachronistic musical beliefs. Though not as frantic and ass-shakingly volatile as the Dap Dippin’ album, all the elements are there: the hard panned, skanking guitars of Binky Griptite and Tommy Brenneck, musical director Bosco Mann’s bouncing bass, and ... actually, this group’s a little too large for me to go through and name everybody. Suffice to say that it’s the band you know and trust will deliver the funk, backing a singer more deserving of the whole “soul diva” title than many that have received such a description in recent history. And while we’re on that note, let’s reflect on the fact that that self-destructive train wreck of a superstar named Amy Winehouse borrowed the Dap-Kings for much of her newest effort, which has probably afforded her more Tanqueray than she could ever bat one of those Mothra sized glued-on eyelashes at. It’s not that Winehouse isn’t deserving of the success she’s had, or even that she doesn’t have the voice for it — she surely does. But the fact is that her Back To Black mines the entire sound of Jones and her Dap-Kings, with Jones absent and repackaged as an anorexic Brit with a death wish. Winehouse’s album sells out regularly, but only those “in the know” are wise enough to recognize 100 Days, 100 Nights for what it is and not just pass it by. There’s an uncomfortable message there that I don’t feel like digging into any further, so ... back to the music.

There’s heartbreak abound on 100 Days, 100 Nights, and the title track exemplifies this perfectly. The somber, descending horns that open the title song set up Jones’ tale of distrust in her man’s heart. Her voice is more burnished than polished, breaking up in the first repeat of the “100 days...” line with such convincingly tortured blues that you’ve no choice but to follow her down the song’s path of splintered love. The way she breaks the band down halfway through, revamping the song’s time signature to a rolling duple-meter soul excursion is simply classic. Things brighten up a bit on “Nobody’s Baby,” with it’s two and a half minutes of chirpy funk, but it’s the vintage Temptations-esque strut of “Tell Me” that gets your head bobbing whether you want it to or not. On “Be Easy” Jones offers advice to a lovesick male, reminding that “... a woman don’t want a man down on his knees, runnin’ round like a mouse after cheese...” But the trampin’ around, lying cheater of a man reappears on “When The Other Foot Drops, Uncle” which finds Jones laying down the law for the last time, lest the unseemly character wants to find himself packing his bags and running for his life. Making love, falling into it and out of it, stepping in it and trying to get it off your shoe ... Jones and the Dap Kings can dig into this time honored song material and always come out with something so full of soul and refreshing that all you can do is listen and nod, because you know what they’re talking about.

100 Days, 100 Nights needs to be heard by anyone feeling that R&B is a little heavy on the “R” these days but severely lacking in the “B” department. Though not as consistently energetic as the previous release, 100 Days still serves up enough blue-collar soul to choke a horse, and with a cool chick like Sharon Jones as guide, wallowing in the funk/soul/blues mud for a half hour ain’t such a bad thing at all.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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