Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings / Jan. 22, 2008 / Tampa, Fla. (Skipper's Smokehouse)
"We've had a blessed year and we're gonna bless y'all with our music," Sharon Jones, powerhouse belter and frontwoman for old-school soul/funk outfit the Dap-Kings, promised near the start of the grou"We've had a blessed year and we're gonna bless y'all with our music," Sharon Jones, powerhouse belter and frontwoman for old-school soul/funk outfit the Dap-Kings, promised near the start of the group's return show at Skipper's. The laidback Key West-style outdoor venue, born as a seafood shack, was jammed with fans, many summoned by sponsoring Tampa community radio station WMNF-FM, who were more than ready to receive the diminutive singer's spirited -- and practically spiritual -- anointing.
That blessing came early and often during a raw and rousing show emphasizing the music from last year's "100 Days, 100 Nights," the band's most commercially and critically successful album, and 2005 release "Naturally."
Jones, who shares a hometown, Augusta, Ga., with big influence James Brown, dug deep into the lyrics and mood of his "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" for one of the most affecting tunes of the evening. The one-time Rikers Island guard can work it tough or tender, and she did both for that song. She closed with another inspired cover, a newfangled version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," anchored to the creep-crawling funk lines of bassist Bosco Mann, aka Gabriel Roth, the dapper Dap-Kings's chief songwriter and cofounder of indie label Daptone Records.
The singer's performance style -- in a word, unstoppable -- was established right away with "I'm Not Gonna Cry," as Jones rode atop Mann's octave-bouncing lines and the crunchy horn section figures. "I'm tired of trying to change your mind," Jones sang at one point, suddenly swiveling her neck to freeze the audience in her gaze.
She wielded dramatic body language throughout the show, putting hands on hips, cupping an ear, and pressing her palms out on "I Ain't Nobody's Baby," dancing with two consecutive, very game male fans on "How Do I Let a Good Man Down?" and slamming and shimmying her way through a nostalgic medley of old dance favorites, including the devil walk, the boogaloo, the pony and the mashed potato.
A Dap-Tones show is designed to look and feel like a vintage road show, so there was lots to take in, including the dynamic announcing and singing of Binky Griptite, the MC and guitarist who welcomed the audience to the "Dap Tone Super-Soul Revue" and led the nattily dressed eight-piece band through several pieces before Jones took over.
Amy Winehouse, who borrowed the Dap-Kings band for the "Back to Black" CD and tour, may get more celebrity ink and a bigger recording budget. But Jones, 51, whose natural acting is on display in the Denzel Washington film "The Great Debaters," is the real thing. She proved it all night, turning in such highlights as the deep-grooving "100 Days, 100 Nights" and an appealing redesign of Janet Jackson hit "What Have You Done For Me Lately?"
Jones has done plenty, including wielding old Stax/Volt and Motown rhythms and textures in service of music fresh enough to grab the attention of listeners long loyal to vintage R&B and others checking it out for the very first time. That's no mean feat.