Sharon Jones & the Dap-kings at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (April 24), 9:30 pm. $15 advance. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Sharon Jones may be the reigning queen of the funk revival scene, but it wasn't that long ago that the only singing she did outside the shower was at wedding receptions.
It's not something she's embarrassed about now, and why should she be? Jones was a damn good wedding singer. Her awesome range, room-silencing power and charismatic stage presence kept her weekends booked solid with nuptial bliss.
In fact, during our interview she tells me she's got a wedding gig the next day. Evidently, it's a good way of making extra cash for someone capable of hitting the Celine notes in My Heart Will Go On and not cringing through Wind Beneath My Wings.
With all the shouting Jones gets into while singing and recording with the Dap-Kings, it may come as a surprise to some that she can deliver a romantic ballad with the proper tenderness. That's what makes the stylistic diversity of her recent Naturally (Daptone) disc such a welcome change. In swinging easily from mid-tempo Afrobeat grooves to bluesy ballads, Jones proves she's capable of much more than hard hollering over a funky bump.
"I'm really happy with the new album for that reason," says Jones from her Brooklyn home. "I sure don't want everything I do to start sounding the same. So I think it was time I recorded some ballads, only I had to get Gabe (producer/songwriter and Daptone label boss Gabriel Roth) to rewrite a few things for me.
"I was going through some changes in my personal life at the time and I wasn't really feeling those 'I'm so in love with you' kinda songs. Stuff like My Man Is A Mean Man and Your Thing Is A Drag was more like it. We were trying a lot of different rhythms and grooves this time - there was even a rock song - some of which we saved for the next album. We hope to get it out later this year."
According to Roth, they recorded two albums' worth of material during the sessions, but only the first half of it appears on Naturally. Other tracks have since been turning up on Daptone 7-inch singles, like the presidential election special What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?
For clever overhauls, the inspired funk revision of Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land ranks right up there with Jones's reconfiguration of Janet Jackson's What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Although Roth was behind both arrangements, he's reluctant to take full credit.
"It was my sister who had the idea of redoing This Land Is Your Land as a funk tune," explains Roth. "She's the one with the brains in our family. Doing the Janet Jackson song was actually her idea, too. I told her I wanted to cover a pop song from the 80s, something really different from the funk stuff I'd been doing, and right away she said What Have You Done For Me Lately? She's got a knack for it.
"This Land Is Your Land is a really interesting tune. Most people only know the first two verses and think of it as some blindly patriotic camp song. But Woody Guthrie wrote it as a radical protest song, although only the last few verses really hit home. Those were the ones I wanted to focus on with our version."
Jones had no concerns about the possible fallout from funking up Guthrie's much-loved folk anthem and rekindling some of the song's inherent radicalism that has long since been forgotten.
"Oh, I was down with the idea from the beginning," she cackles mischievously. "It's a folk song that I grew up with in the 60s, but if you listen to the words, Woody Guthrie could be singing about the situation we're in today.
"He's asking, 'Is this land really my land?' And that question is just as relevant now, to this generation, as it was to people back then."