Ladies and Gentlemen, It’s Sharon Jones’ Time
If you’ve seen soul revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings live in concert, you know one thing. Sharon Jones is not merely a performer, she is an entertainer – and one of the most consummate quality. A Sharon Jones concert is a transcendent experience, and she certainly knows how to milk expectation. In fact, she doesn’t walk out onto the stage until her band and backup singers have sufficiently warmed up the audience, and it actually takes about 20 minutes into the set before you get the main attraction. However, whenever Ms. Jones does saunter out, she does so with so much unbridled energy and enthusiasm, you have to wonder how she manages to belt out what will soon be considered soul standards on the level of anything in Aretha Franklin’s catalog (at least, I damn well hope so) while moving and sashaying around the stage. What’s more, a Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings concert is a participatory one: the augmentative singer brings up both men and women from the audience to dance around with her. If you walk in with a frown, you’re guaranteed to walk out with a smile.
Every concert begins with the following announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s soul time!” So it’s apt that Jones’ quasi-follow-up to her breakthrough 2010 album I Learned the Hard Way takes part of that statement as its title. Soul Time! isn’t a record of new material – it’s a set full of rarities and former download exclusives, and is the very definition of the term “stop gap”. However, the dedicated Sharon Jones fan would have had to be very committed to own everything here: three songs are culled from bonus material found on digital download copies of I Learned the Hard Way, meaning that you would have had to buy the record twice from separate online retailers (and once on vinyl – “When I Come Home” was only available to those who downloaded the MP3s from the label via a drop card lobbed in with the LP) in order to fetch everything encompassing Soul Time!. The thing is this: even though Soul Time! is an odds and sods release, the material is generally top notch, and it leads the excited listener to wonder, if this stuff is considered to be Ms. Jones’ throwaways, or is substance that didn’t find their way to a proper album, has the artist actually recorded anything not intended for one of her discs that would be considered to be an outright dud? Soul Time! is evidence that, even when the singer and her backup band isn’t concentrating on working on cuts that will, pardon the pun, make the cut, they’re still turning out ace material.
The title is a little bit of a misnomer as the set often focuses on the funkier side of Ms. Jones’ musical pedigree. Things start off with the one-two punch of “Genuine Pt. 1” and “Genuine Pt. 2”, which is the kind of track(s) that wouldn’t have been out of place in the repertoire of James Brown circa the early ‘70s. “I’m Not Gonna Cry” stakes similar territory with its careening sax and deep rolling beats. “Settling In” is a turn for the bluesy, showing a very different and yet appealing side to Jones’ persona. However, the real showstopper is the inclusion of “When I Come Home”. It is simply the most memorable thing to be found here, in large part due to the structure of the chorus. “I’m gonna ... ,” Jones sings, and then gives a pregnant pause before continuing “when I come home”. It’s that beat that makes the song stick out and gives it a bit of saucy Sam and Dave grit. It’s a real rave up, and for those who didn’t pick up the vinyl of I Learned the Hard Way, it is the main attraction and the real reason to own Soul Time!.
Soul Time! is also a very – bad pun alert number two – timely release for two reasons. The set includes the incredibly groovy “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?”, which is a rallying cry and anthem-in-the-making for the current Occupy movement. While Jones has her target on the government instead of big business, a similar sentiment is there and makes Soul Time! feel a bit newsworthy. The collection also includes the cute, loss-of-innocence tale “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”, which is also opportune as it is a Yuletide song – and we all know Christmas is right around the corner. The track is written from the perspective of a little girl who wonders how Santa is going to deliver presents considering her building doesn’t have a smokestack atop its roof. It’s a more-than-adequate stocking stuffer for the Sharon Jones fan: the sax solo even delightfully cribs a snatch of melody from “Jingle Bells”.
There’s very little to find at fault with Soul Time!, but the compilation makes at least one egregious misstep. It comes in the form of keeping “Genuine” as two separate and distinct “parts”, per the original single release. That means that almost four minutes into the song, which is right where the listener is really getting into its groove, the track fades out on a breathless wail from Jones, and then fades back in for “Pt. 2”. Since Soul Time! is a long-player, as opposed to a seven-inch, it seems a little too bad that the track wasn’t presented as one seamless whole. However, that ain’t horrible if that’s all that you can really knock about Soul Time! – notwithstanding the fact that even at 12 tracks long, the album feels a little short. However, that also speaks to the power of Sharon Jones’ music (and let’s not forget about those Dap-Kings who provide the backbone to her singing). No matter how much Jones gives you, you’re still left desperately wanting and craving more, more, more. Soul Time! is an engaging affair, and will serve as an adequate platter of non-album cuts from whom I’ll dub as the New Queen of Soul for both long-time fans who might not have everything, and curious newer fans looking to stick a toe in Jones’ body of work. One thing: my vinyl copy of the album comes with the promise in tiny type in the upper right-hand corner of the cover that this is Soul Time Vol. 1 [sic]. If that’s an indication that there’s more of this kind of thing sitting in the vaults, I would breathlessly encourage the band to let the hounds loose. Despite being a collection of stuff tossed outside the medium of a proper album, Soul Time! is remarkably and thoroughly consistent, and anyone familiar with Jones will be left craving for even further remainders. So I say, bring it on, and do the funky chicken while you’re at it.
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