Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: Dap-Dippin' with...

Maurice Bottomley

This is a better album than I had expected and will please anyone who laments the loss of fatback drums, funky organ fills, and muscular vocals.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

Dap-Dippin' with...

Label: Daptone
US Release Date: 2002-05-14
UK Release Date: Available as import

I must admit to a certain unease about the whole funk revival scene. At the collecting end, it seems to have copied the worst of the northern soul "rarity for rarity's sake" ethos. Influential funk DJ and Cratedigger Number One, Keb Darge is, significantly, an ex-Wigan Casino dancer. The zealous Japanese scene has taken up this aspect with some vigour. Still, Darge and the Japanese devotees do at least show a respect for the music. Elsewhere, I detect too much of a "studenty, white boys who really prefer rock music" odour for my liking. Hence, you have the bizarre phenomenon of the latter-day funk fan who hates soul music, conversations with whom are apt to be depressing. Even if one was to disregard all the above, there remains the awkward fact that revivalism is almost always condemned to be a failed attempt to retrieve a moment that is inevitably lost.

Still, from the early '90s there has been a recognisable global sub-culture dedicated to the preservation and attempted reincarnation of the late '60s and early '70s sounds. These are the ones that usually get subsumed under the shorthand term "James Brown" but in fact represent a great swathe of African-American music and countless forgotten groups and 45s. Formed in the wake of this interest, Desco was a favoured label for the new faithful and specialised in finding current bands that sounded like they'd been cryogenically frozen since some time around Wattstax. It was out of the ashes of Desco that Daptone was formed, bringing with them, from that label, the Dap Kings.

Given my suspicions, I was inclined to regard the Dap Kings as funk's answer to Sha Na Na -- great fun, too close to pastiche, and ultimately pointless. This, on listening to their first album, mostly made up of previously (if precariously) available singles, now seems not only harsh but blinkered and boneheaded. I am still not one hundred percent convinced by the band but Sharon Jones is the real thing. More importantly she is the real soulful thing.

The band plays it rough and raw, not as tight as the JBs of course, more like a barroom version circa 1968. OK though, especially after a beer or two. Organ and baritone sax deserve particular praise and the guitar chops out the chords with authentic urgency. Bass and drums seem a little leaden at times but all in all it is solid, no nonsense stuff with all the correct ingredients.

Then there is the material. Forget the deliberately anachronistic dance tune "The Dap Dip" and the silly Soul Review intro and outro and the rest is perfectly acceptable retro-funk. There are unexpected treats too. The re-working of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately" is a stroke of genius, with its '60s arrangement and full-on vocals actually sounding less dated than the '80s original. All the other uptempo numbers are efficient if a little obvious, yet it is gratifying to see some social commentary deftly slipped into seemingly party-hard pieces such as "Got a Thing on My Mind". Generally though it is the function of titles like "Give Me a Chance" and "Pick It Up, Lay It Down" to kick hard and evoke sweaty mid-'60s clubs. This they do competently and affectionately.

Above all it is Sharon Jones' voice that carries the day. Comparisons with Lyn Collins and Marva Whitney are inevitable but she does not really sound like them. Her style is more Southern and bluesy and she really does appear to come out of the vocal tradition that gave us Betty Lavette and Denise LaSalle. The blurb says that she hails from James Brown's hometown Augusta, Georgia, which seems a little too good to be true. Whatever her background, she is a gifted bearer of a very proud torch.

The band slows down on one number, which allows Jones' full powers to shine through. "Make It Good to Me" would fit into any '60s deep soul collection. It has the feel of Clarence Carter's "Slip Away" and a very Memphis arrangement. Jones brings to the lyrics the right mixture of anguish and sensuality. A modern-old classic. The arrangement on the funkier "Ain't It Hard" is only adequate, but Jones gives this tough slice of social critique real edge and conviction. The song deals with hard times, ghetto violence, and poverty and puts some of the current celebrations of that world to shame. Both these cuts manage to transcend the "revivalist" trappings and stand as statements in their own right.

I still think the group are doomed to the campus circuit and the odd blues festival but now hope I'm wrong. I also hope in future that they squeeze out the parodic elements (this music is fun enough without any force-feeding) and develop a more varied palette. As for Sharon Jones, I'd like to hear what she sounds like with more contemporary arrangements. For now, this is a better album than I had expected and will please anyone who laments the loss of fatback drums, funky organ fills, and muscular vocals. If the phrase "Sock it to me, Baby" causes you anything other than complete bewilderment then Dap-Dippin may just be what you have been missing.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.