Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ ‘Soul of a Woman’ Is a Powerful Curtain Call for a Soul Legend
Known for their incendiary live performances, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings found themselves hitting their groove in front of live audiences, and the iconic soul group decided to capitalize on the momentum by immediately hitting the studio. It turned out to be one of the most difficult recording journeys for the group, with vocalist Sharon Jones in the midst of a battle with pancreatic cancer. She died in November of last year, but not before leaving one last 11-track testament to her prowess on the fiery “Soul of a Woman.” Recorded in between taxing chemotherapy treatments, the album tested Jones’ grit as a performer, but you wouldn’t know it from the passion that she leaves on each one of the album’s 11 helpings of straight soul.
Speaking with Rolling Stone in October, Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth explained that Jones would only brave the studio when she felt up to it, an understandable state of mind considering the countless chemicals to which she was exposing her body during the course of treatment. The fact that she pushed herself to deliver stirring performances on unapologetically exultant cuts like opener “Matter of Time” or the even more upbeat “Sail On” prove that passion conquers all hurdles.
Divided into two distinct phases, “Soul of a Woman” showcases a healthy mix of heart-pumping sonic sprints and soul-searching ballads, with a touch of gospel sprinkled in for good measure. “Rumors” is a jaunt perfect for a ballroom blitz, with horns and bass working in tandem to get listeners’ blood pumping, all while Jones wonders aloud if a potential lover is really worth her time and energy. Meanwhile, ballads like “Passing Me By” let Jones’ vocal acuity cut through the smoke and organs as she laments, “Baby, the price of your love is getting too high/I think you better pass me by.”
Of course, you can never go wrong with a bit of funk holding things down, and that’s just what Jones and the Dap-Kings serve up on “Searching for a New Day,” a cut that, from its hypnotic guitar to its thumping bass line, is inescapably groovy in all the right ways. It’s one of those cuts just begging to be sampled on a forthcoming top 40 club-banger. It’s tracks like “These Tears,” though, that truly anchor the album, with larger-than-life and reverberant vocals, giving the plodding anthem a satisfactorily detached tilt as Jones sings, “These tears are no longer for you, baby.”
As far as immortalizing Jones’ already revered memory, “Soul of a Woman” is a resounding success, with powerful tracks like “When I Saw Your Face,” from its pounding drum roll to its calculated trot to the finish, imbuing the final product with an awesome sense of power. “Girl, You’ve Got to Forgive Him” builds on that towering wall of sound, letting the horns and drums completely roll over the listener while Jones rebukes an unknown woman, maybe herself, for letting love slip away because of long-standing infidelity. The album’s final cut, “Call on God,” was recorded back in 2007 and only recently mixed with a backing choir to round out the collection, and it’s a poignant piece of gospel, which for years was synonymous with Jones’ legacy. Overall, “Soul of a Woman” never wavers in its ambitions, showing off Jones’ incredible range and power one last time before she can ride off into the sunset, leaving behind an awe-inspiring catalogue just begging to be explored by music fans of today and tomorrow.
“Soul of a Woman” is available Nov. 17 on Apple Music.