After a lot of years, things are finally going very well for Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. And it’s about time. After spending her early years singing in the church, Jones set out from Augusta, Georgia to make her fortune and enjoyed work, that was mostly uncredited, singing backup for plenty of acts in the ‘70s and ‘80s. When that dried up, she took a job as a corrections officer at New York’s Riker’s Island prison. So it’s probably safe to say that there’ll never be a heckler who can surprise her.
It wasn’t until the late ‘90s that Jones began recording again, releasing 45s on the Desco label. In 2002, she released her first disc with the Dap-Kings, the promising Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings”. In 2005, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings released Naturally, a soul record so fierce that it seemed like Jones and the band had stepped out of a soul/R&B time machine.
100 Days, 100 Nights is Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings ’ follow-up. This effort came after tireless touring, including joining the cast of Lou Reed’s traveling Berlin production. Jones also recorded one-off singles with various people, and even her own children’s book/CD. The Dap-Kings, for their part, worked with Kanye West, Mark Ronson, and Amy Winehouse, (playing on about half of Winehouse’s Back to Black, and acting as her backing band on tour).
As 100 Days, 100 Nights starts, it sounds like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings haven’t missed a step. Deceptively mournful second-line horns give way to a spry soul workout, while the horns turn slinky and sexy as Jones sings about how long it takes a woman to know her man’s true feelings. Then, just as the song’s steamrolling along, Jones says, “Wait a minute. Maybe I need to slow it down just a little bit, take my time.” The song then slides into a funky segment where Jones wails as the Dap-Kings provide a thunderous, rolling vocal chorus.
After that, though, much of 100 Days, 100 Nights feels more subdued. There’s little here that evokes the same reaction as Naturally‘s take on “This Land is Your Land”, which basically amounts to the slack-jawed listener murmuring, “Good God!” In fact, a couple of songs on 100 Days, 100 Nights make you recall other artists’ songs. With its smooth horns, clipped guitar chords, and tambourine, “Tell Me” sounds like a long-lost Supremes cut. The horns on “Be Easy” sound like a distant cousin to the sample of Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” that Run-DMC used for “Christmas in Hollis”.
That’s not to say that Jones and the Dap-Kings suddenly sound derivative. When “Humble Me” reminds you of Otis Redding, it’s only because the song is the sort of emotional, naked plea at which Redding excelled and here, Jones nails it and clearly makes it her own. So 100 Days, 100 Nights is most definitely a Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings record, but it doesn’t announce itself with the same brash authority as Naturally.
A couple of songs seem to rely on Jones to carry most of the load, a feat she’s certainly capable of accomplishing, but more often than not, it’s a case of the Dap-Kings taking a subtle, laid-back approach to their soul and funk grooves. For example, “Something’s Changed” seems like a straightforward R&B track, boasting the expected Dap-King horns, but it also brings in strings, a deep-toned saxophone, tambourine, and chiming guitar chords; there’s a lot going on under the hood.
So 100 Days, 100 Nights doesn’t blast from the speakers in the way some Jones and the Dap-Kings fans might expect, (although this might be forgotten by the time the spiritual piano-funk explosion of “Answer Me” closes the disc). But that’s in comparison to Naturally, one of the best soul records of the past decade. 100 Days, 100 Nights is still Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, which automatically makes it slinkier, funkier, and fresher than just about anything out there, including those other discs the Dap-Kings have been working on.