RATING: 4/5 STARS
Vintage soul and funk fans are probably already well aware of the amazing story and talents of singer Sharon Jones. The woman has lived one hell of a life, one small milestone being defying all odds and finding success in music in her forties. With the help of her soul preservationist label, Daptone Records, and her backing band the Dap-Kings, Jones has found a tight and dedicated following thanks to her powerhouse vocals and electric stage presence. I actually had the privilege to write about Jones
recently in preparation for her new documentary, Miss Sharon Jones!
, so I was psyched when I received the opportunity to review the film's accompanying soundtrack.
Documentary aside, the soundtrack more or less plays like a greatest hits album for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. You don't need to see the documentary to enjoy the soundtrack (even though you definitely should), as it almost completely contains songs from Jones' discography, aside from the brand-new single, "I'm Still Here." If you're already a Sharon Jones fan, you'll automatically love this record, and if you're new to Jones, this is probably the best introduction to her brand of vintage soul you'll ever need.
Like her Daptone counterpart with an equally compelling story and documentary, Charles Bradley
, Jones will make you feel right at home if you love James Brown-era soul but have gone through your entire Stax and Motown collections at least 50 times each. Daptone Records is doing the music world a major service to music by keeping that nostalgic, recorded-with-actual-tape sound alive without coming across as gimmicky or disingenuous. Not only does this soundtrack serve as a highlight reel of Jones' career, but it also serves as an exhibition of how Daptone has emulated vintage soul better than anyone else today. It's actually pretty remarkable that the oldest track on this record is from 2007, when the whole thing sounds like a perfectly preserved record from 1965.
While the whole record contains Jones & the Dap King's best work, some highlights include songs like their most well known track, "100 Days, 100 Nights," a grooving jam that contains as much raw emotion as any dusty blues record from the 50s. "Retreat," the opener off the band's most recent full-length album, 2014's Give the People What They Want
, is an epic anthem for power and independence that really lets Jones let loose her raw vocal power. "Mama Don't Like My Man" features Jones' vocals at the forefront, and at their very best, thanks to its minimalist instrumentation of guitar, backup vocals, and hand claps. "Genuine, Pt. 1" does James Brown almost as good as James Brown without being a full-on imitation, and "I Learned the Hard Way" is one tambourine part away from sounding straight out of Motown.
Of course, the one song that has garnered the most attention is the closing track and the only new song on the soundtrack, "I'm Still Here." This track is by far Jones' most personal and autobiographical tune to date, more or less acting as a thesis statement for the documentary it's featured in. It's a personal declaration of perseverance that serves as a beautifully melodic and thoughtfully crafted middle finger to all the challenges Jones has faced, or is still facing, in her life. The segregation she experienced as a child, her time as a prison guard at Rikers, the record labels who told here she was "too fat, too short, black and old," and of course, her ongoing battle with "The Big C" are all covered in this powerful track, with Jones responding to each challenge the same way: "I'm still here." Even with her ongoing cancer battle, Jones still sounds absolutely phenomenal, and puts everything she has into her singing like she always has. "I'm Still Here" tells you everything you need to know about why Miss Sharon Jones is such an amazing woman, but that said, you should still go see her documentary, and listen to this soundtrack, to really understand and appreciate her inspiring life, career, and sweet, sweet music.