Album Review: It's a Holiday Soul Party by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Great, Based on 11 Critics
Under The Radar - 80 Based on rating 8/10
When it comes to holiday albums, it seems like we've heard a thousand versions of the same classics. Some are so paint-by-the-numbers that it feels like a retread, with little to no adventure or creativity. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' new holiday album It's a Holiday Soul Party is not one of those albums. It's a lively, celebratory album full of soul and funk, with powerfully stirring originals as well as fresh takes on some of the well-loved holiday standards.
Oh, the Christmas record. Often viewed as a novelty and/or record company money-grab in the pop and rock world, it has a proud tradition in the world of R&B and soul the Drifters to Otis Redding to James Brown and beyond. Given the gospel heritage of these genres, it’s not surprising that Christianity’s most popular holiday got plenty of coverage but even secular holiday songs have gotten a lot of love.
Never shy to hide their debt to James Brown, the master of the Christmas album, it’s no surprise that Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings have emulated his festive generosity. Patterned on Brown’s James Brown Sings Christmas and A Soulful Christmas, It’s A Holiday Soul Party is both celebratory and socially astute, comprising originals and traditional songs. Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects is one of the picks in the former camp.
I’ll square with you: I’m a big fan of Christmas, and I’m a big fan of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Jones is an intensely powerful, charismatic singer, and the Dap-Kings are a terrific band. It’s a Holiday Soul Party is pretty much everything you’d expect a Christmas album from them to be, and, for that reason, it is brilliant. The group’s ‘Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects’ has been floating around a while now, a gorgeous recollection of youth and the kind of questions one would reasonably ask at a tender age, drenched in strings and boasting a cute little sax interpolation of ‘Jingle Bells’.
If you’re looking for the soundtrack to a multi-faith holiday season, Sharon Jones and her Brooklyn-based soul band, the Dap-Kings, have done their best to cover all possible bases: take opener 8 Days of Hanukkah, for example, on which Jones can be heard belting about dreidels over horn stabs. There are a couple of classics, too, though this version of Silent Night sounds better suited to a smoky blues bar at 1am than your nan’s front room after the turkey. When it works, it’s tight, dynamic and infectiously upbeat; when it doesn’t, as on Silver Bells, the Christmas shtick overpowers the Dap-Kings’ R&B-funk musicality and turns sticky and saccharine.
Soul songs aren’t typically part of the Hanukkah tradition, but who says holidays need to always stick to the same celebrations? With a smooth, swinging funk, “8 Days (Of Hanukkah)” kicks off Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings’ ode to the season, a record that’s refreshing and unique, shot full of the personality and creativity that have made Jones and her band a neo-soul sensation. Like Nick Lowe’s 2013 Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for all the Family, this is a holiday album that eschews the formula, with fresh original songs capturing more of the true essence of the season than a by-the-numbers pop set of warmed-over Christmas standards ever could. The album’s mission is right there in the title: It’s a Holiday Soul Party.
The holiday album: occasionally classic; more often, a cash-in. As an audience, we mostly tolerate, rather than love, holiday albums. They demarcate a cozy time of year before the bitter cold snap sets in and crushes our collective soul.Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' It's A Holiday Soul Party sounds exactly how you would expect it to. It's that quintessential Daptone tape hiss-funk and Jones's powerhouse performances applied to (mostly) Christmas standards.
R&B siren Sharon Jones and her band the Dap-Kings are ready to help you throw the coolest holiday party of the year with their first yuletide album. It's a Holiday Soul Party features eleven tunes that honor Christmas (and Hanukkah) with an old-school soul groove, featuring seasonal classics like "White Christmas" and "Silver Bells," reworkings of Christmas favorites such as "Funky Little Drummer Boy" and "God Bless Ye Merry Gents," and rollicking originals including "8 Days (of Hanukkah)," "Big Bulbs," and "Ain't No Chimneys in the Projects. " As usual, Jones is in fine form, bringing the songs plenty of fire while also sounding sincere as she sings of the holiday spirit, and the Dap-Tones evoke the classic sounds of the '60s soul era with style, swagger, and enough imagination to give this music a feel all its own.
Were someone to do the maths, it’s likely that Christmas albums would emerge with the highest cost-per-listen of any musical genre – higher, even, than the solo output of Richard Ashcroft. It’s A Holiday Soul Party, the festive offering by the classicist R&B act Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, could well have a longer shelf life than most Christmas records. For a start, Jones and her band are redoubtable musicians who are unlikely ever to put out an average record, let alone a bad one.
Holiday albums are a longstanding pop tradition, from crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole taking on "O Holy Night" to more modern reinventions by Willie Nelson, James Brown and Bob Dylan. Now, following up their Grammy-nominated 2014 LP, Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings have brought their old-school soul to the party. This is a playful and funky 11-track set, filled with both originals and unique takes on traditional Yuletide standards, with rich melodies and arrangements courtesy of the Dap-Kings.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings have made a holiday album as infectiously upbeat as it is soulful and funky. Like the band's overall throwback sound, standout Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects seems at first like it could be a rediscovered 60s soul song (à la Spector), yet in fact it's an original penned by Jones, who turns the theme of Christmastime poverty into a moving tribute to her mother. There's a slow-grooving Silent Night, a lighthearted, educational and funky original Hanukkah song and the most rollicking version of White Christmas you're likely to hear.