Music News

Natural Soul

Naturally. It's more than just the title of the sophomore disc by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings; it's a one-word manifesto. Born in James Brown's home town of Augusta, Georgia, Jones spent decades in church bands and doing session work as a backup singer before joining the Dap-Kings, a New York group dedicated to the preservation of vintage rhythm and blues. Scouring the depths of the diva pool, the 49-year-old chanteuse channels legends such as Carla Thomas, Candi Staton and the goddaughter of soul herself, Lyn Collins, into a knockout punch of old jack swing. Silken ballads? Hip-wrenching stompers? Sharon Jones does it all -- naturally.

Westword: Growing up in Augusta, did you ever get to see James Brown play?

Sharon Jones: I saw James Brown once. I was just a kid. I remember staring at the stage and saying to myself, "Look at his feet. He's floating." After that, me and my brother would try to imitate him, do the splits and things like that.

When you hooked up with the Dap-Kings, how did it feel to be singing this old-school soul?

It felt great. When I was young, singing in different bands, people told me that I didn't have the look, that I was too dark-skinned and too short. When I first met these guys, I was like, "What? What do these young white boys know about funk?" But they understood the groove and where it was coming from. It fit like a glove.

On your new record, you cover Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." Do you think there's a message to that song that a lot of people don't get?

People just hear "This land is your land, this land is my land." Everyone leaves the third verse out: "One bright morning in the shadow of the steeple/Down by the welfare office, I saw my people." The question it's really asking is, "Is this your land?" Look at Louisiana; look at Bush. Look at how long it took them to go in and save those people. That song right now has a very big meaning.

What do you think about Kanye West's statement on live TV, that President Bush doesn't care about black people?

I'm not going to say "Bush hates black people." But I know he's against poor people. When you're in the limelight, you got to be very careful how you say things. But he made his statement. He said what he needed to say.

Do you think there's a lack of soul in contemporary R&B?

No, it's just a different thing. This is the year two thousand and something, right? And we're creating music back from the '60s and '70s. We even record our stuff on tape instead of digital. We try to keep it authentic and raw. These young kids got their little machines, and they can sample and throw things together, but they should keep listening to the old so that they don't forget. The old funk and soul, R&B, jazz, gospel. That's the roots of everything.

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller