Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Soul Time!

Photo: Andrew St. Clair

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.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Soul Time!

Label: Daptone
US Release Date: 2011-10-25
UK Release Date: 2011-10-10

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.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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