Sharon Jones brings the soul
by James Brotheridge
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
Give the People What They Want
“Money don’t follow sweat. Money don’t follow brains. Money don’t follow deeds.”
Sharon Jones has lived what she’s singing on “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”, a fiery track near the end of her newest album, Give the People What They Want. (She has a lot of ideas about “people”, apparently.) The soul singer from Georgia tried to launch a music career for years, only breaking through in middle age. But it was quite the breakthrough. With a string of great albums starting in the early 2000s, she and her crack backing band, the Dap-Kings, have been at the forefront of a soul/funk revival, bringing back an essential sound full of horns, tight beats and plenty of soul.
Another case of rewards for good behaviour found wanting: the release of Give the People What They Want was delayed when Jones — by all accounts a lovely and hard-working person — was diagnosed with cancer. She’s luckily on the mend. Also luckily, though coming in a far second, is that the record doesn’t need to follow trends. Just the opposite: the sound is timeless, or at least rooted in a period of music whose appeal never seems to dim.
The horn section is beyond punchy, coming in strong at the perfect moment every time. The rhythm section pushes the songs forward just as much as Jones’ powerful vocal abilities. Her singing is stronger than the simple stories she sings about: shiftless men, busy women, even Humpty Dumpty.
The combination of Jones, the Dap-Kings and the style is so essential, so vital that it’s hard not to be won over, even with occasionally weak lyrics. Strangely, it’s when they’re stripped down even further that they achieve true greatness. The chorus for “Get Up and Get Out” is a convincing repetition of the title, drawn out with skill and power. It’s great.
Goddamn! That piano! Strong Feelings is a slick affair that feels less bleak and broken than Doug Paisley’s prior recordings –– but don’t go confusing “slick” for “bloated”. It’s 10 crisp alt-country gems that blend the spirit of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark with the rhythm of classic Roy Orbison. Paisley has long been one of the country’s finest country-folk songwriters alongside Al Tuck and Ron Sexsmith, and with mags like MOJO, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker pining over his previous outings there is little doubt that 2014 will be a very big year for the Torontonian troubadour. /Michael Dawson
Cœur de pirate
Dare to Care
This album should come with an asterisk. Yes, it’s by Cœur de pirate but it’s different from her previous two albums. To begin with, it consists entirely of covers. And it was done at the invitation of Quebec TV producer Fabienne Larouche. Larouche’s medical drama Trauma starts its fifth season on Radio-Canada this month, and apparently she has a tradition of showcasing a different musician each season (Martha Wainwright, Ariane Moffatt and Pascale Picard have been featured previously). The 12 songs here are drawn from sources as diverse as Kenny Rogers (“Lucille”), Amy Winehouse (“You Know I’m No Good”), Patrick Watson (“The Great Escape”) and the Rolling Stones (“Dead Flowers”). Presumably they have thematic links to the episodes they appear in. In any case, Cœur de pirate makes them her own with sparse guitar and piano arrangements and her soulful voice. /Gregory Beatty
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Wig out at Jagbags
The last decade has been kind to Stephen Malkmus and his rotating band of Jicks as they released a winning series of eclectic albums that culminated in 2011’s Mirror Traffic, a stripped down, straightforward pop album that is a true highlight in Malkmus’s long, illustrious career. The follow-up, Wig Out at Jagbags, is every bit a Malkmus album, with clever guitar hooks, near-nonsense lyrics and an infectious pop sensibility. It’s exactly the kind of successor that you’d expect to Mirror Traffic –– and maybe that’s what holds this one back. While songs such as the first single “Lariat” or the fantastically named “Cinnamon and Lesbians” deliver the kind of precise pop thrills one expects from Malkmus, they’re all expected, which is deflating after so many successful stylistic change ups through the years. Still, Wig Out at Jagbags is an often brilliant little album, and you know you’ve been spoiled when it comes with even a twinge of disappointmentent. /Matthew Blackwell