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Album Review | Sharon Jones sticks to what she knows

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 08:01

For more than a decade, one band has been trying to revive the sounds of record companies Motown and Stax in the most in the most authentic way possible. Not content with just using samples or experimenting with already established formulas, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have been producing the real deal. Eschewing modern conventions by recording with non-digital equipment, they make vintage music the same way it was made in the late ’60s and early  ’70s. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have also ensured that their music stays true to the original soul and funk music style found in their five studio albums, the latest of which, “Give the People What They Want,” mostly follows the same old formula. And it is this very formula that has become both a blessing and a curse for the band.

After its release was delayed due to lead singer Sharon Jones’ diagnosis and subsequent recovery from bile-duct cancer, “Give the People What They Want” seems to deliver exactly what its title advertises: more of the same classic sounds fans have come to expect from the group. Depending on how much a listener enjoys the classic Motown sound, this might be an exciting prospect. Many modern artists who emulate this specific type of music often do so with their own style. Android-obsessed singer Janelle Monáe?is a prime example of this — she utilizes her soulful voice to incorporate modern electronic pop and dance elements into songs that have deep roots in R&B and soul.

But the 57-year-old Jones, a former correctional officer at New York City jail Riker’s Island, and her band offer no such alternate takes despite their punchy melodies which produces a mixed bag of results. Oftentimes, it seems that Sharon Jones & the Dap-King’s albums, with the exception of the big hits, sound much too similar to each other.

Nevertheless, “Give the People What They Want” resolves some of the issues inherent in a band insistent on playing in a static style by increasing the variety and pacing of songs. The previous album, “I Learned the Hard Way” (2010), suffered from a lack of diverse styles and sounds, but such problems are rectified in this latest release. Classic soul tracks are complemented by either slower-paced, more R&B-inspired numbers or lively, funkier beats, such as the opening song, “Retreat!” — one of the stronger tracks on the album. Each song on this latest record is polished and has an impressive level of detail. Despite this, very few songs truly distinguish themselves, unlike some singles found in earlier albums.

This makes “Give the People What They Want” eventually blend into one seemingly endless 33-minute product. And yet, at the same time, it almost feels as if any of these tracks they would fit right in with any of the group’s previous albums. In a way, the ten separate songs in “Give the People What They Want” become movements within a larger symphony of the band’s discography. For this reason, it can be said that while Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have introduced some variety to their work, they have not evolved or advanced their musical craft much further. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are still a band worth listening to, and “Give the People What They Want” provides a good introduction to the band’s craft. But in the long run, this album is simply more of the same from the soul revivalists.

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