Monday, January 22, 2018

I'd Love to Turn You On #197 - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - 100 Days, 100 Nights

In the fall of 2007, I moved back to my hometown in upstate South Carolina after a couple of years in New England marked by academic stress and upheaval in my personal life. My father was preparing to retire from nearly forty years of teaching and I thought it would be a good idea to get some time with him while I figured out what direction my life would take next. Shortly after returning home, I started picking up shifts at the local record store where I’d worked before and grew up shopping. While I was in school, I hadn’t been able to stay current with new releases and up-and-coming artists. Working at a record store again gave me a welcome opportunity to explore music with frequency and depth. At the end of November, I took a memorable day trip to Asheville, North Carolina and listened to some new music I’d recently acquired. The album that most stood out on that drive was 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.

Leading up to that fall, I had heard about a soul revival group that was building up a loyal following with explosive performances and restless touring, but 100 Days, 100 Nights served as my introduction to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Sharon Jones had worked for years as a backup singer, but didn’t experience success on her own until her forties and fifties with the Dap-Kings. When I first listened to 100 Days, 100 Nights, I noticed not only the one-two punch of the superb musicianship and studied songcraft, but also the combination of Jones’ incredible voice and her lived-in, knowing delivery. Although The Dap-Kings worked on reviving the kind soul music that Motown, “the sound of young America,” popularized in the 1960s, they featured a lead singer who embraced middle age and all of the wisdom that comes with it. I had just turned thirty earlier that year, was still taking notes on some life lessons I’d recently learned, and appreciated these songs in a way I might not have a few years before. The title track, “100 Days, 100 Nights,” establishes the key elements of the album’s sound with a descending horn figure that quickly gives way to the full power of Jones’ voice as she guides the band through a workout and imparts the insight she has gained from a lifetime of love and loss. Later on, the album highlight, “Something’s Changed,” flies by in just under three minutes, but in that time it practically glows with warmth and reverb as Jones and company offer a master class in how to pull off a flawless pop song. Near the end of the album, “Keep on Looking” underscores the value of years of touring that honed the band into a taut, yet flexible entity able to complement Jones’ passionate, multi-layered performance with an urgent, responsive arrangement. Closing out the album, “Answer Me,” borrows the structure and content of a gospel song, but this satisfying sinner’s lament ends up feeling like a night out drinking while you’re still wearing your church clothes.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, I finally saw Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings for the first and only time at the Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina, of all places. It was a cold night in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but Jones and the band heated up the room and put on one hell of a show, easily living up to their reputation. This tour occurred in between Jones’ two bouts with cancer, but I couldn’t tell that she was anything less than one hundred percent that night. Sharon Jones continued to perform and record until her death on November 18, 2016; her final album, Soul of a Woman, was released almost exactly one year later. Sharon Jones won over audiences with her generosity of spirit and I’m thankful for the ways she has reminded that how we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life. 100 Days, 100 Nights provides a wonderful introduction to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and belongs in the collection of any music lover who has experienced the inevitable heartbreak of life, but isn’t willing to give up.

-         John Parsell

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