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Dap your hands, everybody

Give it up for funk classicists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

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There are not three Sharon Joneses  thats the magic of - photography!
  • There are not three Sharon Joneses thats the magic of photography!

On the back cover of the Soul Providers' (Don't Look Back) Behind the Shack, a slab of Brooklyn-spawned retro-funk released by Desco Records in 1998, you'll find the following note: "DESCO is seeking bands and musicians who are interested in recording HEAVY, HEAVY funk or Boogaloo. If your influences include Parliament, Stevie Wonder, or be-bop, you need not apply. When it comes to gettin' down, James Brown is the ground."

They weren't kidding -- then or now. Desco splintered three years ago, but the label's successors, Daptone and Soul Fire, still adhere to the same basic principle: If it ain't J.B., it's B.S.

But if the Futureheads can get away with aping XTC and Wire, and Interpol can channel Echo & the Joy Chameleons, we certainly can make room for funk classicism.

"I think we've had a lot of luck, as far as people not being able to judge us on who we are, but on how they like the music," says Neal Sugarman, a saxophonist for Daptone's flagship act, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who've issued two excellent albums, 2002's Dap-Dippin' With Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and the new Naturally.

"At the beginning, we'd get people thinking they were old records. But once people looked at them closer, they'd say, 'Wow, where did this come from?' They didn't know if it was old or new. And they made unbiased decisions on it, not saying, 'Oh, this is a new record by a bunch of young white kids.'"

Even when Jones and her associates tackle material outside the super-heavy-funk canon, they cover it in cold sweat. Take the Dap-Dippin' highlight, a transformation of Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" In the Dap-Kings' hands, Jackson's first hit turns into the kind of hard, horns-driven groove that J.B. might have cooked up for one of his female protgs in the late '60s.

"The whole thing when we put it out on a 45 was trying to make it sound like Janet had ripped it off from us," says Sugarman, who also leads the Daptone organ combo Sugarman 3.

The gambit worked, according to Jones, speaking from her Brooklyn home. "We actually got e-mail from people who thought Janet Jackson had done a Sharon Jones cover; they thought it was from the '70s. That's our whole idea."

If that were the whole result, the joke would wear out pretty quickly. But especially on Naturally, the Dap-Kings wring new pleasures out of old sources, partly by tweaking them. See the sharp, militant vamp they lend to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

The Dap Kings may or may not know the whereabouts of - Sharon Jones.
  • The Dap Kings may or may not know the whereabouts of Sharon Jones.

Moreover, Jones can sing just about anything. A former corrections officer at Rikers Island and a veteran of cover bands and gospel groups, Jones knows when to lay in the cut and when to belt. On the new album's "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" she fashions a classic performance that sounds as apt in 2005 as it would have on, oh, Aretha Franklin's Lady Soul.

Listening to her yearning, melancholy vocals, it's hard to imagine that the 47-year-old Jones didn't write the song herself.

"Actually, it is sort of a personal experience with me," she says. "Bosco [Roth, Daptone songwriter and producer] knows certain things that are going on in my life.

"At that time, I'd been in a relationship with this guy for, like, five years. He walked out the door one day and said, 'I'll be back, see you Friday.' And it was eight months before I heard from him. We're not together anymore, of course. Bosco came up with the idea of me telling him a little bit of my story."

She laughs. "My words would have been more angry."

-- Michaelangelo Matos

capsule

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder; Friday, Sept. 23, 9 p.m.; tickets: $15, 21-plus; visit bouldertheater.com or call 303/786-7030.

Quixote's True Blue, 2637 Welton St., Denver; Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 p.m.; tickets: $10-$12, 21-plus; visit quixotes.com.

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