Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
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.
"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.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.