Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In)
It was such sad news that Sharon Jones died at just the age of 60. She was such a vital performer and her music – and the way she presented it – was all about joy. One of the great live performers of recent years, absolutely magnetic. And just so much fun to be in the crowd watching that band and her at the front of it all – a great singer, but more importantly a great communicator. She spread the joy, she layered on the performance thick but it never felt false. It was real. She was real. And she was really good.
Now, the back-catalogue is being scraped for residue. Rent is due at Daptone towers, no doubt. Jones was a flagship artist.
And I’m okay with this, despite the obvious cash-grab. There are some unreleased tracks, some things that popped up on tribute albums, it’s not just a straight chiseling off the studio albums that are readily available. Some effort has been made to make a new collection.
I’m also okay with this because much as I loved the vibe and feel of Jones and band as live performers, there wasn’t anything special happening in terms of original songwriting. Not to may ears. The real gift was in the covers.
When I first heard Jones the thing that stood out was her cover of Janet Jackson’s What Have You Done For Me Lately? Miraculous. She really gave it an old-soul feel. It sounded vital and basically passed as an original, whilst also being a reminder of a strong-enough song to begin with; to me that’s the aim of any strong cover attempt.
And this was no fluke. Jones and the Dap-Kings were able to do this again and again.
They did not hit it out of the park absolutely every single time but it was a high strike rate. Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land turned into a sinewy funk stew. So good. Prince’s Take Me With You a popping little Baritone-sax drenched funk gem. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition’s Just Dropped In – the title track here – again just full of funky saxophones and a propulsive drum groove. Jones in full throated glory, owning every inch of these songs. Dragging them straight into the party-zone.
So to me, as blatant and desperate as this might be to wring some coins from the fans, to lazily boost the rep of the label and to get what they can from Jones in name, I still hear this as the real Greatest Hits; the real proof of her singular worth as an artist. Ain’t no shame in being a great covers jukebox. Joe Cocker did it for longer than anyone, always drove a great band and kept surprising with new versions of songs you didn’t think you needed to hear again. Until you heard them again.
Sharon Jones was the next best thing to that. And when you hear the best of her cover versions lined up it’s an amazing (short) run.