Essential New Music: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ “Soul Of A Woman”

This album comes as a sad-yet-welcome surprise. Sharon Jones died in November 2016 after a recurrence of pancreatic cancer—although she joked that her stroke a week before passing was a result of Donald Trump’s election. She and the oh-so-excellent Dap-Kings managed to record Soul Of A Woman earlier in the year, in fits and starts when Jones was strong enough between chemo treatments. It’s an album full of life, energy and soul, and although Jones won’t be dancing across the stage to these songs, it’s easy to imagine her doing so. (Perhaps in heaven, with Charles Bradley.)

That said, it’s the sophisticated soul songs that outshine the raw R&B workouts this time. Horn-driven, James Brown-style rave-ups such as “Sail On!” and “Rumors” are fun, but Soul Of A Woman is even better when the tempos slow slightly and the horns provide seductive support rather than drive the arrangements. “Call On God” is a gospel ballad in the Muscle Shoals tradition; “Come And Be A Winner” and “Searching For A New Day” groove like ’70s Philly soul; “These Tears (No Longer For You)” recalls the grand drama of Gladys Knight & The Pips classics. Jones sings the hell out of all of them (although she might not approve of that expression). “When I Saw Your Face” is a tour de force of sensitive restraint and emotional power, and the politically minded “Matter Of Time” is an earnest, commanding testimony, punctuated by Jones’ funky exclamations of “Oh yeah!”

While it’s hard not to hear Soul Of A Woman and mourn Jones’ death, the joyful vibrancy and old-school expertise coursing through these tracks quickly supersede any hint of sadness.

—Steve Klinge