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Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "100 Days, 100 Nights"

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' third full-length is proof positive that musical quality will always triumph. Their subtle take on soul and funk is terrific fun for everyone and their success mocks any attempt at narrow definitions of genre, beauty, the female form and what is hip.

 

Daptone

Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Georgia, the hometown of James Brown. She reminds me, though, of some of the many (largely unknown) singers who create goose-bumps on the skin of even the most casual wanderer entering the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival. Most of those performers have day jobs, so it doesn't surprise me at all to hear that Sharon Jones has had a string of jobs including prison guard. Similarly, it's not unusual that she comes from the tradition of singing in church. Jones finally broke into recording after countless rejections based on factors other than her voice: she is "full-figured," not everyone's idea of an oil painting, and is now in her fifties. Cleverly, the Dap-Kings play their part by doing a great job of creating space for Jones to do her thing. It's like a team game plan in sport and it is an excellent plan because she scores every time. 

The title track to this new record begins like a dirge but quickly smacks into life with a finger-click rhythm, the proverbial "fat" horns and Jones' sublime wailing. A couple of minutes in, they slow the track down to a stride blues piece which also works perfectly. Like most of the cuts here, it fits the previously important blueprint for radio and jukebox play. It is also a contender for best song of the year. "Nobody's Baby" is solidly influenced by James Brown or Funky Meters; a retracing of grooves for sure, but with such a light touch and over such rock solid territory that there is no danger of it sounding worn out. On this track Jones sings a little quicker, tighter, tougher, and for reasons I can't quite fathom it's deeply pleasing to hear her spit out the word "cabbagehead." The next piece, "Tell Me," introduces a breezier pace and Jones' voice floats on the rhythm as if riding on a cloud like a Japanese Ninja Spirit.

There are a couple of pieces that are more overtly gospel-influenced: "Humble Me" and "Answer Me" are imbued with a depth of feeling that contradicts any suspicion that Jones could do this stuff in her sleep. As with all her work, the rhythmic lines, melodies and riffs go back and forth between gospel, soul, old-school R & B, and funk. Thankfully, the music invariably avoids stepping in stinky cliché, and sounds fresh and uplifting. This makes three nifty full-length records in a row by the group, with some interesting singles t' boot. Never muddled or formulaic, their economy and spirit can be a joy to listen to. Maybe the analog production and the 1970s vintage instruments help, but I reckon it is down to talent, taste and Jones' sheer class. As testament to her power, over in YouToob Land the person who has posted the most videos of her music previously posted nothing but metal.

I'm determined to avoid using the word "retro" because Sharon Jones is the real deal. She isn't playing, she inhabits the music. Jones is funk, in the same way as a guy like drummer Johnny Vidacovich is rhythm in everything he does; even the way he talks and walks down the street. When Sharon Jones sings "Make me grateful for my voice/ That I might lift you up, yeah!" I don't much care whether she's thanking a creator for her talent or talking about reciprocating the appreciation of her audience, because either way, it sounds great! 100 Days, 100 Nights is no pastiche, no imitation or approximation. Everyone should benefit from stepping lighter after hearing this stuff. I think it's time to take the Lee Dorsey pledge: "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On)."

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Review of the Day

DEVENDRA BANHART, "REJOICING IN THE HANDS"
Young God
He possesses the unkempt street-hustler looks of Vincent Gallo, the psychotic vulnerability of Syd Barrett, the spooked lonesomeness of Skip Spence, the instrumental dexterity of Robin Williamson, the naïve sincerity of Tiny Tim, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Marc Bolan's early T. Rex warble and the evocative wail of Karen Dalton. After his superlative debut Oh Me Oh My..., many were quick to heap praise on Devendra Banhart, hailing the 23-year old singer-songwriter as a peerlessly original voice. With such obvious musical precedents for Banhart's intimate, acoustic songcraft, this adulation seems a bit overstated. Despite what has been said, Devendra Banhart hasn't reinvented the wheel. He has, however, used his considerable lyrical and melodic gifts to create a handful of idiosyncratic recordings that speak volumes for his songwriting talent. Oh Me Oh My... was immediately distinctive not only because of Banhart's quavering vocal delivery and incredible fingerstyle, but also because of its willfully low-budget recording aesthetic; the songs were self-recorded live-to-tape on sub-par cassette recorders, Dictaphones and answering machines. Two years on, Devendra Banhart has achieved a modicum of success, championed by Michael Gira, with a home on his Young God label. Although Banhart and Gira could easily have opted for an artificially studied recreation of the low-fidelity distortion and tape hiss of the demo reel, the right choice was made on Rejoicing in the Hands to present the performer in a simple, clean studio recording. The tracks on this new album sound every bit as live and spontaneous as the Oh Me Oh My... sessions, but the technical advantages of the studio recording highlight every velvety pluck of the guitar strings and every nuanced vibration of Devendra's labored vocals. Because these songs are refreshingly free of extraneous debris and contain only minimal, unobtrusive backing, Rejoicing is a marvelous showcase for Banhart's songs and performances. Each track is a miniature masterpiece; few exceed the three-minute mark, but each has the immediacy and resonance of déjà vu, as if Banhart was pulling from some vast collective-subconscious archive of archetypal sing-along folk melodies. His lyrical themes are fascinating as always, strange re-combinations of dime-store mysticism, humorous reverie and the odd fanciful passage of surreal wordplay. On the title track, he is joined by the legendary Vashti Bunyan, the elusive songstress who recorded the acid-folk classic Just Another Diamond Day and promptly disappeared from view. Their lovely duet is an affectionate homage to the placid simplicity of the 60's British folk revival. - 

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