Is it possible to take retro too far?
Place Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings latest long player on the stack and hear for yourself. From the opening blast of How Do I Let A Good Man Down? you'll be transported approximately 40 years back in time. In fact, if you were to take even the most cursory of looks at the album art while you listened you could not be blamed for believing that this was a reissue from an obscure and long-forgotten '60s soul group.
But you would be nonetheless mistaken!
Witness: Sharon Jones is a 47-year-old with a powerful, time-worn voice. The Dap-Kings are a group of young men with whimsical psuedonyms like Boogaloo Velez and Binky Griptite. Producer, arranger, writer, and player Bosco Mann is a fellow obviously brimming with ambition. Should it take this many people to make a sound not far removed from the classic Motown groove? I guess so, though Jones is more Martha than Diana.
Like those enduring Motown singles, the lyrics are simple, but illuminate the twistier side of romance. Take that opener How Do I Let A Good Man Down?: Sharon has found herself interested in two men, one gives her "comfort," the other gives her "chills." Take a look at that title again, then take a guess at which one she's going with. My Man Is A Mean Man indicates, beneath a roiling bassline, that perhaps she's chosen poorly.
One thing is clear, Jones is not to be messed with. She may have her weaknesses, as shown on the exes-who-can't-let-go ballad Stranded In Your Love and the rueful closer All Over Again, but she is also a tough cookie. You're Gonna Get It is not a threat of punishment, at least not one you'd hate to suffer. Your Thing Is A Drag is a withering indictment of a man who always wants to go home early and drinks juice instead of liquor. Jones and I wouldn't make a good couple.
But the queen of sass outdoes herself on How Long Do I Have To Wait For You? The song is lyrically interesting because though she sounds fed up, she's obviously still not ready to leave the table. Musically, the song sounds so familiar I'd be surprised if it's not already being used in a pharmacutical advertisement.
As if this wasn't all nostalgic enough, the album package lovingly recreates a time when art direction was headed in a better direction. Try Jones sitting in a blue and gold flowered dress and big hoop earrings, looking out a window. The cover tells us that the CD is "stereo compatible." There's a lauditory essay inside, and the album's 10 songs are split into "Side One" and "Side Two."
There are larger questions at work here, namely the one I opened with. How much artistic validity is there in recreating the past, and does it really even matter? If a lack of originality can produce such a fun listening experience then maybe originality needs to be redefined.
Fave Song: How Long Do I Have To Wait For You?