As a kid who grew up in the ‘90s, raised on my mother’s original Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight vinyl LPs, my first thought when I stumbled upon Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings just a few years ago was, how did I completely miss this? For me, studying the soul music that helped fuel and simmer historic moments like the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s has always been a key component to my self-identity and awareness, so I was genuinely confused as to how I could have missed something that surely graced record store racks alongside Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and The Impressions circa 1967.
After some brief research, it made more since that I hadn’t overlooked a 40-year-old soul band, but was missing out on the revivalist rhythm of a band and their lead singer who were not only standing strong on their own catalog, but also helping add the funk to everything from Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black (2006) to Mark Ronson’s Version (2007). The more I learned, the more respect I gained for what has to be one of the most feel-good, yet unsung stories in the entire music industry. A blue-collar band, clawing their way to prominence, one incredible live show and formidable album at a time.
Sadly, just as I began to play catch up with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ impressive body of work, she was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer, which is tearfully ironic for a blues woman whose fight merely to be recognized was as much a testament to her guts as her vocal range. Jones succumbed to the complications of her illness one year ago in November 2016, after two hard fought battles with cancer.
So the news that the Dap-Kings would be releasing an album led by her powerful vocals was received with a heavy dose of emotion. The sultry lyrics of the album’s first song “Matter of Time” immediately quenches the listener’s anticipation, as Jones’ soothing vocals bring the lyrics within arm’s reach like great soul artists were prone to do a generation ago.
For a band that hangs its hat on consistency, Soul of a Woman adds to their reputation by combining Sharon’s powerhouse vocals, supreme songwriting, and masterful musicianship. “Just Give Me Your Time,” for example, showcases the band’s full range, excelling on all cylinders. The Dap-Kings’ impeccable timing perfectly complements Jones’ soaring mezzo-soprano, with lyrics that would have edged this song into the Top 40 during the height of the Stax Records era.
The album, which is about the length of a late evening sitcom, is free of any filler, and remains highly listenable for its duration. Even where the imperfections of Jones’ weathered voice are noticeable, they mostly pass as endearing, sometimes even adding authenticity to breakup anthems like “Pass Me By” and “These Tears.”
Soul of a Woman culminates as perfectly as a soul/blues band’s album could, with the melancholy, heart-wrenching final testimony of a performer’s performer. “Call on God” would be too sad for fans who have followed the underdog career of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, were it not such a great song. A rare moment between fans and a special artist, where Jones leaves behind the gift of her infectious soulfulness.
Soul of a Woman helps end 2017 by reminding us of how and when we fell in love with music, by successfully combining elements of multiple genres for this newest addition to the blues continuum. This album is another triumph for a band that has amassed a respectable body of work and hopefully still has many more long players ahead of them.
Notable Tracks: “Call on God” | “Just Give Me Your Time” | “Matter of Time”