(Daptone Records, CD)
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are as righteous as they come. Featuring horns, guitars, bass drums and Jones' sultry voice, the eight-piece group positively smokes. You're not likely to hear anything as legitimately funky and soulful as their sophomore album Naturally anytime soon -- that is, unless you invent a time machine.
This album is so damn good it's tough not to write in all caps. From the dark strut of opener "How Do I Let a Good Man Down?" to the mellow sway of closing track "All Over Again," Naturally affects a stone-cold groove. I don't know how the hell producer/bassist Bosco Mann managed to capture the gritty analog vibe of '60s soul music, but I can tell you this -- it's bona fide.
"Natural Born Lover" shimmies deliciously, its chorus supported by a James Brown-style breakbeat that snaps and cracks with skillet-licking authority. Jones' performance on the cut instantly gives you shivers; her no-nonsense delivery and smoldering pipes could melt a glacier. And the album only gets better from there. Guest vocalist Lee Fields gives Jones a run for her money on "Stranded in Your Love," a raunchy little number about a busted-up relationship that nonetheless provides certain "comforts." Fields' whiskey-soaked croon is the perfect complement to Jones' buttery incantations. Sexy, sleek and more than a little volatile, their duet explodes with sassy charisma.
"Your Thing is a Drag" is an album highlight; a collision of smart funk vamps and Motown shuffle. A snaky sax solo uncoils in the right speaker while Mann's spring-loaded bass line froths and bubbles.
Gooey, melodic guitar runs color "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" -- a sweetly earnest plea from a woman ready to let go of the memory of an ex-lover but utterly incapable of doing so. Horns stab around the slippery beat and buoyant bass line like a prizefighter landing strategic jabs; it's hard to believe they didn't just find this album in some Muscle Shoals Studios broom closet.
In this era of canned beats, loops and super-processed vocals, it's positively shocking to hear a red-blooded rhythm section and unadorned vocalist get so down and dirty. Sharon Jones & the Dap-kings would've been near the top of the heap four decades ago; in the present day, they're uncontestable. Don't miss them at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge this Friday, April 29.