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Daptone Records darlings Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have returned with Give the People What They Want, their first studio album since 2010's I Learned The Hard Way. It’s an album of soulful vocals, catchy riffs and a whole lot of funk, with a beating heart that is beautiful and genuine.
Album opener Retreat! starts quietly with a double bass and guitar over which instrumental layers are slowly and subtly added. Jones’s vocals are at the forefront of the track, with everything else there to support her. The song reaches its peak on the last chorus, with the instruments battling it out until only drums remain for a single bar–the ominous sound of a warning.
Stranger to My Happiness meanwhile, is more upbeat and brighter, even though the lyrics — “But it’s a mystery how you came right in, and stole my heart away / And left me bare again / Feeling like a stranger to my happiness” — are nothing short of heartbreaking. The backing vocalists make a fantastic accompaniment, punctuating each verse perfectly.
We Get Along slows the album to a cruise, with Jones’ vocals taking on a more subdued tone. This short moment of calm is followed by the standout You’ll Be Lonely, which gives new meaning to the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” “You’ll be lonely, after I’m gone / Don’t go hungry, after I’m gone / Cry me a river, after I’m gone“, sings Jones, the echoes of the back-up vocalists giving weight to the lyrics and emphasising the message. The brass section soars and harmonises with the vocal line.
It is ironic that on an album dubbed Give the People What They Want, heartbreak seems to be the most potent theme. The track Now I See proves to be the Rosetta Stone that unlocks the melancholy. “Now I see, you tried to take my man away from me“, sings Jones, conspicuously directing her soulful barbs at the faithless friend and not the duplicitous lover.
The LP’s ultimate charm lies in its instrumentation. There’s brass, a double bass, funky guitar riffs, keys, and of course, a gorgeous saxophone. The imaginative arrangements bestow each song with its own stand-out features, while the album as a whole remains consistent in style and tone.
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have delivered a fantastic album. Every track is strong, the lyrics are heartfelt and passionate and Jones’s voice is the perfect compliment. You’ll love the way these songs make you want to dance, while reflecting on the lyrics will make you pensive, perhaps even angry. It is a memorable release from a talented group that oozes with style, grace, and fury.