Not since Aretha has there been a queen of soul that is quite as captivating and powerful as Sharon Jones. Her sassy voice can whip a lyric into a funk frenzy, a bluesy drone or a soulful purr while she rests her hand on an insubordinately jutting hip. Each note is dripping with attitude – this is a woman not to be messed with, fellas.
Along with the eight-piece band she fronts, The Dap Kings, she has released her fourth album, I Learned The Hard Way. To accentuate their vintage soul style, it was recorded on an old Ampex 8-track analogue tape machine. But, rather than a mere nostalgia act attracting greying soulsters in search of an Aretha, Otis or James Brown wannabe group, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are receiving plenty of mainstream attention, and amongst the youngin’s too.
The reason is, their charismatic live performances have garnered a growing reputation, and they’ve released a string of great albums. I Learned The Hard Way is no exception. From the opening track, The Game Gets Old, with its dominating but carefully composed, symphonic brass section to the superb instrumental, The Reason, everything is blissfully perfect.
Mama Don’t Like My Man is a personal favourite. Its moving, gospel-infused construction is satisfactorily simple, allowing room for the listener’s interpretations. Similarly, If You Call is a slow, blues-soaked ripper of a track. In fact, this may even be their best release to date.
Born in 1956, Sharon Jones has been forging a career as a singer since an early age. However, it is only recently that she has struck gold with The Dap Kings, finally receiving the recognition she deserves. She also featured in a duet with Michael Bublé on his latest album, Crazy Love.
Along with Bublé, Norah Jones, Robbie Williams, Rod Stewart, Jamie Cullum, Jimmy Barnes, Diana Krall and many others, Jones is helping to recapture music that has been all but ignored in later years. Jazz, blues, rockabilly, soul and funk have been shunned in favour of commercial pop and rock but these artists are rerecording hits gone by and bringing these forgotten genres to the notice of younger ears.
For example, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings headlined the Golden Plains Music Festival in 2008, which is frequented by young music fans. The band was a huge success and their music received a lot of airplay on the Australian youth radio station, Triple J.
Similarly, Nora Jones and Jamie Cullum are both young artists who are enhancing the popularity of jazz among their peers. They both prove that jazz isn’t only played by crusty old men to an audience of boring old farts, but by vibrant, talented, young musicians that have and promote respect for their craft.
Rod Stewart and Jimmy Barnes are aging rockers who are also embracing the golden era of swing with their most recent albums. They are encouraging their rock fans to open their minds to older music. Robbie Williams is another artist who segued from pop to embrace jazz in his 2001 release, Swing When You’re Winning.
Although these types of music haven’t been commercially popular since the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, artists like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are finally enjoying success. Hopefully, young people will realise that actual talent is required to create soul music – not just the blonde hair, skimpy clothes and wacky behavior of commercial pop.
Kelly Theobald is a co-editor of upstart. This piece was originally published on her blog, Music Meets Girl.