Such is the effort that Brooklyn's Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings put into making their studio albums, not to mention the sheer quality, that their catalogue is already as classic as many of their late-sixties to mid-seventies influences. It is something of a wonder that original music, steeped in the tradition of funk and soul, is being made to such a high quality today.
"Soul Time!" is not a new album as such - it's a round-up of bonus tracks, singles, B-sides and tracks pulled from various side-projects. Close watchers of SJDK will find they will already have most of the tracks, in fact only the thumping Motown-like stomper "New Shoes" is previously unissued from what I can tell. Yet it is already one of my favourite releases by them, for had this actually been a planned studio album, and if hypothetically nobody had heard any of these tracks before, jaws would drop. As a showcase of their funkier side, this collection just goes to show how strong the Dap-Kings are - Sharon Jones' vocals are commanding, bursting with charisma and energy; Gabriel Roth handles most of the (timeless) songwriting, oversees the production and leads the band from behind a bass guitar; and the remaining Dap-Kings compress their obvious passion for the music into a considerable groove.
Amongst the highlights here are two, uncompromisingly ferocious funk gems, easily amongst the best modern examples around: "Genuine (pts. 1 & 2) and "I'm Not Gonna Cry" sound as if they could have come from the Godfather himself circa 1970. Neal Sugarman's screaming sax intros to both give way to parping baritone, thick bass, chanking rhythm guitar, super-tight horns and sturdy drums. And yet, it feels like they didn't have to break much of a sweat pulling this out - the musicianship is ordered, clear and just darn funky. For all its clarity, they make sure there is enough (good) dirt in there too - a yelp of approval heard during the sax solo of "Genuine pt. 2' as some filthy guitar muddies the background and Sugarman's sax resembles St. Clair Pinckney's soul screaming. "He Said" is just as ordered and funky, with Jones belting the vocal out wonderfully. "When I Come Home" builds indestructibly on the base of "There Was A Time", a groove that is worked into a frenzy by Jones onstage; Christmas single "Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects" is just as great as its title; "What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes" denounces U.S. foreign policy in the name of everyday people; and Shuggie Otis' "Inspiration Information" proves to be an inspired choice for the only cover.
A brilliant showcase, essential for all funk heads, wether you missed some of these sides previously, or just want them all in one glorious long player with Polydoresque artwork. "Soul Time!" is what funk yesterday, today and tomorrow, is all about.