When listening to current R&B, one might marvel at its distinct lack of anything resembling either rhythm or blues. Modern-day studio auteurs like D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq and even the abstract Madlib have certainly helped reanimate the tradition of classic Stevie Wonder-esque production, though their antiseptic arrangements usually end up pumping about as much funk as a can of Lysol. Sadly, today's most eminent archeologists of soul's late-'60s/early-'70s Golden Age have been semi-ironic indie-rock groups like the Make-Up and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. And DJ Shadow should be pinned with either a medal or a lethal injection for his role in popularizing the art of crate-digging for obscure old soul records -- a practice that threatens to deplete hip-hop's ever-dwindling supply of sample-ready breaks.
Luckily, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have set out to replenish the world's natural resources of drumbeats and basslines, in the meantime hatching some Grade A, farm-fresh funk.
This is not the slick, over-studied groove of Medeski, Martin and Wood. This is raw, jagged, Soul Revue-style R&B -- the kind James Brown belted out on stage at the Apollo and the MGs chicken-scratched at the Stax studios in Memphis. Frontwoman Jones spreads on her Southern-belle sass as thick as Patti Drew, Gordy-era Gladys Knight and the Godfather's own protégé, Marva Whitney, used to. Tracks like "Give Me a Chance" and "Make It Good to Me" wring every last ounce of bitter animus out of a jilted lover's broken heart. Awash in brass and stinging Hammond organ, nerve-plucking guitars mesh with the rhythm section's jerking syncopation. Bringing it all full circle to the digital age is a horn-scorched cover of Janet Jackson's 1986 hit "What Have You Done for Me Lately," skinned of neon, breaded in grit and deep-fried in a bucketful of sweat.
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"Saviors of R&B" is surely too grand a tag for such an underground band on a tiny independent label, though the Dap-Kings seem capable of tossing out more heavy soul than a stadium full of Macy Grays. As authentic, unrelenting and compulsively danceable as Dap-Dippin' is, though, there's a faint aftertaste of the same retro-fad vapidity that birthed the swing, Latin and rockabilly revivals of the '90s. A stiff dose of unfiltered funk would, of course, be a perfect antidote to the placebo soul of modern radio. But if they're not careful, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings just might wind up as the Squirrel Nut Zippers of rhythm and blues.