Listening to “Retreat!,” the opening track on Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings wonderful, retro soul-inspired album Give The People What They Want, brings to mind an 80s Bruce Springsteen album track called “No Surrender.” On it, Springsteen vows to a friend and/or lover, “No retreat, no surrender.” Jones could have easily retreated, and even surrendered after being diagnosed with bile duct cancer shortly after tracking this latest full-length. The good news is Jones has finished her chemotherapy and is back on the road again. Best of all, she has a bevy of great new tunes to share with audiences.
Jones likely gets tired of being labeled a retro soul singer, but it’s a classification difficult to avoid. The groove-oriented “You’ll Be Lonely,” which hearkens back to Aretha Franklin’s Memphis heyday, is complete with sleazy horns and saucy backing vocals and certainly won’t be confused with anything Beyonce is doing these days. The tiered, cascading harmony vocals that support “Making Up and Breaking Up” immediately bring up fond memories of classic soul vocal groups – probably wearing bell bottomed pastel leisure suits and sporting sky high afros – perfectly in step together and making beautiful vocal sounds on Soul Train. And isn’t that the ghost of Pop Staples providing the swampy guitar fills during “Long Time, Wrong Time”? Hipster kids today may not pick up on these seemingly obvious audible clues, but baby boomers will be flooded with déjà vu during almost every song.
As a vocalist, Jones is resolutely in the soul shouter category. Yet she shows an ability to go from empathetic tenderness to making bold exclamations on tracks like “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” which reveals more range than what might first meet the ear.
Cancer or no cancer, Sharon Jones, with the help of her tight Dap-Kings, is taking time-tested soul grooves from the past and giving them a freshness that somehow makes them sound brand new. And to that end we say, ‘You go, girl! No retreat, no surrender!’