Naturally – Sharon Jones
A modern band who creates a vintage sound is a tricky thing. There’s a fine line between truth and parody, and there is always the temptation to fall into the realm of caricature. Very few artists succeed at jumping into the way-back machine, but Brooklyn’s Daptone Records has made a living at producing such efforts. Once again, they do a first-class job on the latest from Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, a groovy album called Naturally.
Where their debut release made a statement as a bonafide purveyor of deep 1971-era funk, Naturally is oozing with soul. Sure, ass-kickin’ funk is readily apparent on raging cuts like ‘My Man is a Mean Man,’ hip-grinders like ‘Your Thing is a Drag,’ and a deliciously inventive and nasty rendition of Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land,’ but soul music is the primary theme here. Like any good soul record, the trials and tribulations of romance and relationships color nearly every song, from the bopping ‘Natural Born Lover’ to a spirited duet with icon Lee Fields on ‘Stranded In Your Love.’ The latter is a stirring and often humorous vocal duel between two singers with tremendous chemistry. Playing the roles of former lovers who find themselves reunited due to unforeseen circumstances, this song is easily the most genuine effort on a very genuine album. Everything about it, from the gentle guitar hooks to the plucking string section to the subject matter covered, sounds as if it were lifted directly from the Motown catalog.
Showcasing a new strength, some of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ best cuts on Naturally are ballads. ‘You’re Gonna Get It’ drifts back to a mid-sixties prom with its gentle sway and lilting horns. Jones is all over the vocal, bringing truth and passion to this sultry tale of a woman who is dedicated to her man. It’s a tune that could easily be heard on today’s AM radio, and it’s only outdone by the stellar album-closing ‘All Over Again.’ Affirmations of love in song can easily become clichbut that’s impossible when the vocals are so heart-felt. Jones wraps her pipes around every inch of these lyrics of re-discovery, and she’s perfectly accented by lush orchestrations with warm strings, mellow horns, and a bubbly organ. This is as perfect as a song gets, and it’s impossible to not be affected by its charms.
Bassist and producer Bosco Mann has once again performed his magic with great success. With age comes wisdom, and he’s wisely omitted some of the more hokey elements that plagued an otherwise enjoyable Dap-Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Instead of attempting to replicate another period in time, he’s focused on his excellent songs, and by bringing truth to these compositions, he has created a vintage album that excels without schmaltz. Mann has clearly looked toward the examples of Berry Gordy and Gamble and Huff for spiritual guidance, and the payoff is a record that sounds as if it was created 35 years ago but remains incredibly fresh.