Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
100 Days, 100 Nights
hat can be said about Sharon Jones that isn’t already embarrassingly apparent? The woman embodies the culture and sound of early soul better than just about anyone else: all the old tropes are there (Naturally’s “My Man Is a Mean Man” and “The Dap Dip” from Dap-Dippin’ With…), her soul/funk compatriots the Dap Kings are exceedingly proficient, and her voice is a force not to be reckoned with. The woman is soul. And though it seemed that Jones had sufficiently dug her niche with soul-revivalists, her latest, 100 Days, 100 Nights, makes her early work sound nostalgic and indebted to her predecessors rather than a retroactive contemporary of them.
Don’t be mistaken; Jones’ early material was the real deal. Naturally’s warmth and expansive sound is undeniably authentic. Because while Jones and the Dap Kings didn’t release a proper album until 2002, Naturally proved three years after their debut that they’d be in the game much longer. It was about as good as soul had been since Stax and Motown collectively ruled the airwaves.
Maybe it’s that legendary dichotomy that Jones has internally reinvigorated with 100 Days: Motown’s pop melodies versus Stax’s raw power. Where Naturally was laced with catchy gems like “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?” and “Natural Born Lover,” 100 Days is more stripped down, replacing the sing-a-long ballads of her early work with unadulterated emotion. Now, Jones is more Otis Redding than the Supremes. More heartbreak. More longing. More soul.
From the first moans of the melancholic horns on 100 Days’ self-titled opener, it’s clear Jones has shed her pop sensibilities in exchange for the Stax model. She hopelessly boasts, “100 days, 100 nights, to know a man’s heart,” to the painful realization that post-100 days... And though this sentiment was more or less present on her earlier discs, the pain seems more protruding as her voice struggles to scream out “100 days.” Seemingly not all that troubled by it, Jones confidently struts on the sadistically triumphant “Something’s Changed.” She cries, “You don’t even look at me / The way you used to look at me, no” before finally understanding, “You’ve changed, I’ve changed, we’ve changed.” Heartbreak be damned.
Jones simply feels more involved in the music on 100 Days. It feels like she’s actually been wronged. It feels like she’s gotten over it if by nothing else than through song. She bears her soul more fully, as many of the tracks showcase soft-spoken instrumentation (“Humble Me,” “When the Other Foot Drops, Uncle”), leaning almost solely on Jones’ foghorn, heart-wrenching voice.
She still occasionally shows her penchant for pop-balladeering though. Searing through the singably catchy chorus of “Nobody’s Baby” the verses sound strangely more reminiscent of Redding’s “Don’t Mess With Cupid.” And the funk guitars coupled with the call and response of “Tell Me” are immediately infectious, harping back to the Motown aesthetic.
As the album ping pongs between the two divergent sounds so rapidly, it hardly seems fair to label 100 Days as a rawer, more Staxy album. But it’s something about the way she sings, how her voice has more oomph, and how you can hear the painful tinge of heartbreak as she belts out each song. These battling styles is what’s so amazing about Jones though. For someone who many presume is the embodiment of contemporary soul, shouldn’t she be able to blend the two, proving a propensity for both? 100 Days is just that coalescence.