As both Naomi Shelton and sometimes Naomi Davis this is a singer who has worked! It’s that familiar – Daptone – story: years of slogging it out, joining the current (Daptone) revues too and just a couple of albums to her name despite a long life of singing. We know this story from Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and you could be forgiven for hearing something of their sound here on first listen; that vibe. But what I really love about this, Shelton & The Gospel Queens’ first album since 2009 – and just her second as a headliner (outside of work with Sugarman 3) – is that it has a bit more grit, less of the usual Daptone sheen.
Sure, there are remarkable players here, evoking the dusty ole country-soul feels and vintage Stax but Shelton’s overall vibe here is more Mavis Staples than some ugly old shouting like Charles Bradley. As with Staples’ recent albums there’s a spark and a groove and of course a storyline – the artist’s back-story too. Though this doesn’t have the rugged churn of Staples’ fantastic We’ll Never Turn Back it does have a similar story to tell, an arc of gospel and nearly-country songs.
And from covers of O.V. Wright (Everybody Knows – River Song) through the backing band’s pedigree (players that have worked with The JBs, Solomon Burke, Sam Cooke…) there’s just something that really sparks here, transcends that usual Daptone slickness. And I say that as someone who’s always happy to settle for most of what Daptone offers – I know it’s a label that cares, that has a certain quality and is doing its bit even if these 50 Years of Treading The Boards and now – finally – a star! stories are hard to take without a bit of cynicism.
It’s pretty wonderful actually – all of it. Easy to believe too – and that’s not always the case with these “suddenly discovered” old players. Very much the real deal and a startling set of songs here. It just works. Good grit and great playing and Shelton’s in fine voice – a commanding presence. She owns every piece of this.