Album of the week: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Give the People What They Want
The soul survivor gives the people what they want—more retro aethestics than a Mad Men set.
Mon Jan 13 2014
That's hardly the most get-your-juices-flowing album title, is it? Give the People What They Want implies lowering the bar a little bit. It passes the buck, artistically, to the listener. If the Dap-Kings have not moved beyond reverential replication of 1960s R&B, well, that's because of us. And I agree: The sound of retro soul never gets old. Those horns and that bass as chewy and warm as cookies from the oven. The vintage production on Sharon Jones's sixth platter, as always, feels like leather and wood amid all that pop that reeks of silicon and long-chain polymers. And Jones has the vocal power to keep things emotionally hair-raising, if not creatively electrifying.
Still, there is potential for something greater, and seeds of it are here. A Morricone-ish air hangs over the thrilling "Retreat!"; you can hear it in the distant, marching drums and rattlesnake tambourine. "People Don't Get What They Deserve" (and there's an unintended double meaning for ya) zips along with Stereolab's socialist swing, swirling a vibraphone riff around its hips like a hula hoop. Elsewhere, however, is the standard fare of heartbreak balladry, finger-snapping grooves, scorned-woman kiss-offs and Sunday brunch funk.
See, even in this antique framework, there is room for some innovation. Inject a little swank European jazz, some soundtrack scope. Or at least lyrical originality. Jones can Shirley Bassey it up like few can, but that fuel would do better in vehicles built from something other than lines like "Cry me a river" and "like Humpty Dumpty, it had a great fall." A decade into this retro-soul thing, the trend-hoppers, your Mayer Hawthornes and Fitzes, have moved on to slicker '80s sounds. We hardly expect Jones to wander into the Hall & Oates realm. This sound is in her blood. But it'd be swell if someone came in and Bobby Womacked her up a touch.
Sharon Jones visits Vic Theatre on April 11.