Women with soul

Sharon Jones alternates between upbeat and pensive in Soul Of A Woman.
Sharon Jones alternates between upbeat and pensive in Soul Of A Woman.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The late funk singer Sharon Jones and veteran R&B/gospel doyenne Mavis Staples are alluring in their new albums

Fiery American soul and funk singer Sharon Jones died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 60 last year, but her music lives on in Soul Of A Woman, the final album from her band, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings.

It is one of two significant soul releases in the past week, the other being the 16th release by American R&B/gospel veteran Mavis Staples.

Jones, whose music career took off at the age of 40, alternates between upbeat and pensive in her last full-length release, recorded in the last few years of her life.

The Georgia native sounds downright impassioned in the rousing Matter Of Time, the swinging Rumors and the ultra-dramatic Girl! (You Got To Forgive Him), stretching her vocal cords and giving the studio-recorded songs a James Brown-like energy usually found in live shows.

She is wistful on numbers such as Just Give Me Your Time, These Tears (No Longer for You) and When I Saw Your Face, heart-rending odes to failed romances.

Call Of God, the last track on the album, is particularly moving as she pays tribute to her gospel roots.

The album captures the golden, warm sounds of vintage funk and soul records from the 1970s, painstakingly recorded the old-school way on eight-track and reel tapes.


    Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
    4 Stars

The Dap-Kings, her band of musicians and songwriters famed for backing popular artists ranging from the late Amy Winehouse to Mark Ronson, are in fine form, never letting their musical dexterity get in the way of Jones' stirring singing.

Gospel doyenne Staples, 78, adopts a less flashy approach in her vocal delivery, but the result, a heavy discourse on race relations, is still potent.

As can be surmised from the album title, the songs are unapologetically political, but instead of tapping anger and despair, the septuagenarian crafts her latest work like a shining beacon of hope.

"We go high, when they go low," she croons in her brassy voice on We Go High, while the country-tinged Peaceful Dream is an optimistic ode to better days ahead.

Build A Bridge, like many tracks on the record, is an inspiring call for empathy: "When I say my life matters, you can say yours does too/But I bet you never have to remind anyone, to look at it from your point of view".

The songs are written and produced by alt-country stalwart Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, who imbues the recordings with a stripped-down quality that lets Staples' rich voice come to the fore.

The finger-picked folk-blues of album closer All Over Again is particularly outstanding as Staples' singing drops to an unusual, low pitch with a darker tone than the rest of the album.


    Mavis Staples
    3.5 Stars

"Sometimes I have regrets/But I ain't done yet," she sings on the track.

Coming from a stately and dignified voice in the gospel world, it is hard not be taken in by her allure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Women with soul'. Print Edition | Subscribe