Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party
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Holiday albums are a longstanding pop tradition, from crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole taking on “O Holy Night” to more modern reinventions by Willie Nelson, James Brown and Bob Dylan. Now, following up their Grammy-nominated 2014 LP, Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have brought their old-school soul to the party. This is a playful and funky 11-track set, filled with both originals and unique takes on traditional Yuletide standards, with rich melodies and arrangements courtesy of the Dap-Kings. “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”, a pointed piece of holiday-themed social commentary original released in 2009, takes its merry place alongside newer tunes like “Big Bulbs” and “8 Days (Of Hanukkah)”, all with swinging horns and Jones’s singing superbly backed by girl-group harmonies. Throbbing bass lines and tight drum breakdowns assist up-tempo songs like “Funky Little Drummer Boy” , “White Christmas” leans more toward Ike & Tina’s “Proud Mary” than Bing Crosby, and their stirring rendition of “Silent Night”, with its bluesy guitar and back-up vocals, is just one of several interpretations that breathe surprising new life into old carols. (Who knew you could dance to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”?) Homer Steinweiss, drummer for Menahan Street Band and the Dap-Kings, contributes a song of his own with “Just Another Christmas Song”, a witty, groovy toe-tapper about succumbing to the holiday spirit.
This is a perfect party record for those who reach for Phil Spector over Johnny Mathis.
Review by Noomz-of-Earl
The vast majority of Xmas LPs feel uninspired, perfunctory and bland, verging on being little more than cynical cash grabs and catalog fillers that exploit the artist’s fans. But then, out of nowhere, there is “It’s a Holiday Soul Party” by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (backing vocals by the fantastic Shaun & Starr) to restore our faith in total musical integrity by an outfit who are genuinely feeling the spirit of the season.
The festivities begin with a joyous and energetic, brassy and raucous Dap-Kings original celebrating the “8 Days (of Hanukkah)“. It is appropriately the lead-off number, since Hanukkah precedes Xmas on the calendar (plus, Hannukkah songs are rather few and far between). Now that the album has your full attention, here comes the brand-new Xmas soul classic-in-the-making, the gripping, reality-based “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects“, penned by Sharon Jones and producer Bosco Mann. With the superlative support of Shaun & Starr, “Just Another Christmas Song“, whose lyrics name-check a string of well-known titles, sounds like Jones is fronting some stellar girl-soul group from 1969 on this midtempo sweetly funky gem.
Some familiar seasonal songs are here in the form of “Funky Little Drummer Boy” (the title tells the story!); “White Christmas” as it has never been heard before – sizzlingly fast and furiously funky; “Silver Bells as a gospel-funk hybrid; and a sensationally rendered “Silent Night” as a slow blues.
Speaking of blues, Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas” might seem a bit too obvious an inclusion, but this has to be one of the best covers of it ever attempted. Jones, as she is throughout this album – no matter what the style – is deep into her vocal sweet spot. The off-the-wall “Big Bulbs” features magnificent trumpet and multi-tracked vocal harmonies. The outstanding production values elevate the fun quotient considerably.
This set winds down with the mellow sixties sound of “World of Love” with its essential theme of making a better world for the children; and then comes to a close with the Dap-Kings’ soul-jazzy, horn-driven instrumental take on “God Rest Ye Merry Gents“.
This album really packs a wallop in its 34 minutes, as it joins the ranks of great soul holiday LPs of all time.