May 8, 2010


You can't be Sharon Jones because, well, you weren't (Chris Parker, 5/06/10, Indy Week)

Chiseled with a rugged, timeworn demeanor that shouts "don't gimme none of your lip," Sharon Jones' voice has enough character to exist in a Coen Brothers film. It's not one of those airbrushed beauties showcased on American Karaoke or the pop charts. Rather, it's a raw, primal force, unafraid to exclaim most anything.

Backed by the vacuum tightness of the Dap-Kings, Jones sounds more like a time traveler than a funk revivalist. You could swear she was there, singing soul and funk with the greats, and she sort of was: Jones sang with bands and backed other artists from the early '70s and into the '80s before shedding the soul goddess dream in favor of age-enforced pragmatism. Jones was a correctional officer on Rikers Island and had just turned 40 when Gabe Roth, the Dap-Kings' bassist and co-songwriter, and Philip Lehman, his partner in the Desco label, discovered her singing backup vocals for another soul survivor, Lee Fields. Much like spiritual kin Bettye LaVette, Jones draws upon a deep reservoir of struggle and doubt from which she forges the soul-shaking ache and frustration in her voice. She supplies a legitimacy that can't be faked because nobody handed her anything.

Of course, the style never really disappeared—the emergence of West Coast G-Funk with its raft of old samples has ensured that, along with the indefatigable road presence of George Clinton and his various offshoots. But when you consider the steady stream of neo-soul acts over the last two decades, you wonder where the disconnect is? Why aren't more people trying to make this music? Other than a handful of groups in the Dap-Kings' orbit—The Sugarman 3, Lee Fields, The Daktaris and to a lesser extent, The Budos Band and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra—few have attempted to replicate that classic funk sound. And the sound is ostensibly lucrative: I Learned the Hard Way went to No. 15 on the Billboard charts and No. 2 on the Independent charts, and Jones has worked with Lou Reed and Michael Bublé.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2010 5:07 PM
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