WFIT

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' 'Soul Of A Woman' Is A Testament To Fortitude

Nov 20, 2017
Originally published on November 17, 2017 9:48 pm

Sharon Jones went public with her battle with pancreatic cancer several years ago. Her travails became a central part of the 2015 documentary, Miss Sharon Jones, which followed her attempts to attend to her treatment while also touring and recording with the Dap-Kings. On the one-year anniversary of her death, those efforts come to life in the form of one final album: Soul of a Woman.

The mere existence of Soul of a Woman, to say nothing of its excellence, is a testament to the fortitude of all involved. It's the group's first LP of original material since 2014, and though most of it was recorded during the course of Jones' illness, Soul of a Woman never points directly to what she was going through.

Throughout her career, Jones rarely cut songs that felt autobiographical in any literal sense, even though hers was a story to tell. She grew up in working class Georgia, moved to New York and worked as a corrections officer and weekend wedding singer, until finally catching a break at the age of 40. When she sang of triumph and struggle, love and heartache, those songs didn't have to be obviously about her in order to make them relatable. Fellow soul artist Jill Scott once described soul music as "reaching and touching people on a human level." Jones understood that as well as anyone.

When Jones and the Dap-Kings first assembled over 15 years ago, they mastered a blend of soul and funk influences drawn from years past. Over time, though, they crafted their own sonic identity out of that melange. When I hear their music today, especially the hit of their horns or the reverb draped over their guitars, I don't hear the Motown sound or the Stax sound or the Philly sound: I hear the Dap-Kings sound.

For longtime fans, some of Soul of a Woman will play to expectation. A song like "Sail On" provides the kind of uptempo, foot-stomping verve that's always been Jones' bread and butter on stage. Yet surprises lurk: I'm not sure I've ever heard Jones sing in the pocket quite as snugly as she does on the slinky and sassy "Rumors."

My favorite Sharon Jones songs have almost always been the ballads, including the sweeping "All Over Again" from 2005's Naturally or the slow-burning "Window Shopping" on 2010's I Learned the Hard Way. Soul of a Woman adds a few more gems to that list, including "Pass Me By" and the haunting "These Tears (No Longer For You)." Jones' power to emote, the grain of her voice, add that necessary touch of pathos.

Throughout their career, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings gave listeners something to feel with every recording and every performance. That's still true here, at the very end.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Today is the one-year anniversary of the death of singer Sharon Jones. Today is also the release of her final album with her band, The Dap-Kings. It's called "Soul Of A Woman." Reviewer Oliver Wang says that even at the end Jones and the band stayed true to their sound. And the result is a wonderful elegy to an indelible talent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS SONG, "MATTER OF TIME")

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: "Soul Of A Woman" never points directly to Sharon Jones' illness despite her very public battle with pancreatic cancer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATTER OF TIME")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) It's a matter of time before justice will come. It's a matter of time, yeah, before all wars will be done.

WANG: Throughout her career, Jones' songs rarely felt autobiographical in any literal sense, even though hers was a story to tell - growing up for poor, long stretches working as a corrections officer and weekend wedding singer until finally catching a break at the age of 40. Her songs of triumph and struggle, love and heartache weren't necessarily about her, and that helped make them relatable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAIL ON!")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) Wait a minute. If I do to you what you did to me, tell me, tell me, where would we be? Two people stranded without a helping hand. Two people stranded, neither one a friend.

WANG: This is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' sixth album of original material, and its mere existence as well as excellence is a testament to the fortitude of all involved. When the group first assembled over 15 years ago, they mastered a blend of soul and funk influences to create their own sonic identity. When I hear their music today, especially the hit of their horns or the reverb draped over their guitars, I don't hear the Motown sound or the Stax sound or the Philly sound. I hear the Dap-Kings sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COME AND BE A WINNER")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) Seems like you've been wasting time trying to find your place in life. You need to get your ducks all in a row.

WANG: For longtime fans, some of "Soul Of A Woman" will play to expectation, such as the up-tempo, foot-stomping cuts that were always Jones' bread and butter on stage. But I'm not sure I've ever heard her sing in the pocket quite as snugly as she does on the slinky and sassy "Rumors."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUMORS")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) I heard a rumor about you, and they tell me you're no good. Are you my one and only? Can you show me? You've got to show me. Don't tell me that you're uptight.

WANG: That said, my favorite Sharon Jones songs are the ballads. Her power to emote, the grain of her voice give her slow jams an added a touch of pathos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PASS ME BY")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) Baby, there is something that is on my mind, but I really don't want to say it. Baby, I know all the games you're playing, but I'm getting so tired of playing them.

WANG: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings gave listeners something to feel with every recording and every performance. And that's still true here at the very end.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEARCHING FOR A NEW DAY")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) I've been searching for a new day.

MCEVERS: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is a professor of sociology at Cal State, Long Beach, and co-hosts the music podcast "Heat Rocks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEARCHING FOR A NEW DAY")

SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS: (Singing) I'll keep on searching for it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.