No-one forgets seeing Sharon Jones live – she was a powerful performer, and it is nothing short of tragic that her late-blooming recording career was so cruelly cut short this year. In a conversation with JJ Grey a while back we got to musing on Sharon Jones – and Charles Bradley as well – as many in his band had also worked with both these artists. He summed her up nicely: “when Dr John says ‘boy when them women, when they got that strong thing, boy, I love that’ and that’s Sharon – she’s got that strong thing”. This final album, completed after her passing, is not the sound of a woman battling her third round of cancer – this is a strong woman producing simply the finest soul.
Daptone have forged an enviable reputation for having an instinctive feel for true rhythm and blues and sweet soul music. The music the label puts out is never a by the numbers recreation rather it is the genuine article: just recorded more recently than the classic catalogue. One of the secrets to the success of Daptone is that they have adopted a STAX-like model: an in-house band with the songwriting predominantly drawn from the band and artist. All the strengths of the band then get focused onto the recording, which is why a song like the album opener Matter of Time is just perfect. Sharon Jones lays down the way things have got to be over funky horn blasts and the neatest little guitar hook, declaiming “this is a song about — peace / just a little bit of time before freedom will mean free” before adding “I can’t wait too much longer / my frustration’s near its end / I can’t hate because I am stronger / It’s a matter of time”. There’s more “lets get together people” spirit on Sail On!, which boogies with a vengeance as Sharon Jones chooses unity over vindictiveness: “If I do to you what you did to me / tell me tell me where would be ?”. Not that she’s a walkover, as Pass Me By makes clear – a slow and soulful ballad which gently chides an uncommitted lover, more in sorrow than in anger. Girl! (You got to forgive him) takes things up a notch into the unashamedly overblown excesses of psychedelic-soul, with Saun & Starr adding reverb heavy call-and response backing vocals as Sharon Jones digs deep for a soulful plea to give that man one more chance. It’s glorious. And it really wouldn’t be a Sharon Jones album without some gospel-soul, here it’s one of her own songs and poignantly Call On God is the album closer. And if the circumstances of the album add the song an extra shiver then that’s ok, and so’s the last couple of seconds of the track, and of the album, which is Sharon Jones softly laughing.
In the final assessment Soul of a Woman is an album that stands up on its own merits, yes it is the last album from the leading Soul Lady of the last decade but that’s not where it is at. Sit back, turn up the music and, Ladies and Gentlemen it’s time for the the soul queen, the one, the unique, the only, Miss Sharon Jones