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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings Mine Cathartic Joy on ‘Give the People What They Want’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: January 14, 2014
Label: Daptone

Euphoria is central to survival. What better way to keep on keepin’ on than by experiencing innate, chromosomal happiness? If humans can’t get it organically, we chase it down and buy it: There’s that artificial surge that propels the Molly generation. Luckily, Sharon Jones is of another time.

The one-time Rikers corrections officer and former session singer for Lee Fields has a knack for commanding the full spectrum of emotion, cramming it all inside her throat until her voice is blue-black, and then unloading all of that complexity in a way that’s not always cathartic, but feels so damn good regardless. “Retreat!” is the first song on Give the People What They Want, Jones’ fifth album of replicate, revivalist soul-funk with house band the Dap Kings; it’s all entreaty and evisceration, a prickly-sweet “talk-to-the-hand” rebuke of a lover, but also of an oppressor, doubter, naysayer. Her magic isn’t just a pitch-and-picture-perfect resurrection of performance-matters late-’60s soul, but an ability to sing through the most wretched of love and relationships with triumph in the lingering, defining grain of her voice.

Speaking of triumph, this once-delayed album is already best known as Jones’ first since beating a 2013 cancer diagnosis. It was recorded before she fell ill last summer, but the laugh-in-the-face-of-whatever disposition of this music is such that it demands survival. Still, despite its vintage warmth and constant insouciance – sculpted by the Dap Kings’ backbreaking rhythms and spry horns – Give The People‘s mood is one of romantic despair. In her late fifties and getting it, Jones indulges every form of crazy-making lover: on-and-off (“Making Up and Breaking Up”), secret (“Get Up and Get Out”), and former (“Long Time, Wrong Time”). That latter, Stax-indebted tune is one of the record’s most sparse — and most captivating. She zones out a bit, leaning on a repetitive refrain throughout, making it the closest thing here to a lament; hand-claps, minimal percussion, and a yowling chorus line keep time as pivoting bass and plucky rhythm guitar entangle to create a disorienting groove.

Despite the Dap Kings versatility — they were more hushed and drowsier backing Charles Bradley on last year’s Victim of Love – and Jones’ indefatigability, there aren’t many new ideas here. That’s not the point, though. The point is that music from another time can still thrill us in this one because of its practically tyrannical insistence on bliss. Maybe it stands out mostly thanks to its noted lack of contentment in today’s youth-driven music industry. But “too happy” certainly isn’t a bad thing to be, and anyways, isn’t that exactly what we want?