Gone but never forgotten — and still electric — soul powerhouse Sharon Jones will grace stereos and earbuds the world over next month. On Tuesday, Daptone Records announced that it would release Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ final studio album on Nov. 17.
Soul of a Woman, the band’s seventh album, is 11 songs of soaring soul and lush orchestration all backed by Jones’ powerful, wide-ranging vocals. Recorded while Jones was valiantly battling a second bout of cancer and released nearly a year to the day that she passed away, the album is at once filled with joy and hope, and sweetly sorrowful.
“The last couple of years, Sharon was battling,” Daptone co-founder/Dap-Kings bassist/producer Bosco Mann says in a release. “When she was strongest, that’s when we’d go into the studio — Sharon couldn’t phone it in, so we would only work when she was really feeling it.”
Before her death from pancreatic cancer, Jones was nominated for her first Grammy award for 2014’s “Give The People What They Want.” She was the subject of the documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, and she toured relentlessly. While always an exhuberant performer, kicking cancer seemed to give Jones a renewed energy, amping up the intensity of her vocals and stage show. She would tell her audience about how chemo turned her nails black and caused her hair to fall out, before jumping (sometimes literally) into a high-octane version of “Get Up And Get Out” that banished any sign of weakness.
Sharon’s well of talent — and that of the entire Daptone/Dap-Kings crew — is apparent on Soul of a Woman and showcases two sides of the late singer. “Side one is the more raw live side,” Mann says, “while side two is more moody and orchestrated — more of a departure from her carnivorous live persona.”
Daptone initially wanted to focus the album on string-driven ballads such as “When I Saw Your Face,” possibly leading to a tour that would incorporate symphonies or string sections. When the band realized Sharon might not survive cancer, they decided to record more up-tempo and bluesy material like “Sail On” to better reflect the group’s energetic, funky show.
“The band was really cresting on stage in the months before Sharon passed. As a show band, I don’t think any band out there could have competed with us at that level,” Mann says. “We hit the studio hot off the road and you could feel it in there.”
The resulting record is as contemporary as ever, pulling no punches as it flows easily between tempos and styles while occasionally offering holy-shit, skin-tingling moments. From stripped-down, early ’70s-era tunes such as “Come and Be a Winner” to the bombastic, horn- and string-heavy “Girl (You Got to Forgive Him), SJDK meld signature Daptone production with incredible musicianship. The band continues to offer new sounds on “Rumors,” which has a “Schoolhouse Rock!” giddiness to it alongside a touch of Latin percussion, honking sax and hand claps.
Fittingly, for Jones was a woman of faith, the album ends with a gospel tune. In it, she declares, “I made up my mind / To be with him all the time / And I won’t let nothing turn me around / To be like him is what I long to be / And to share his love to eternity.”
Soul of a Woman is an album that presents the full range of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings — a band that ushered in a soulful revolution and changed the face of contemporary R&B. Their dedication to traditional soul and funk, expert production, visceral performance, and a fearlessness when it comes to trying new things easily puts them in the canon of the greatest soul bands. Soul of a Woman is a fitting capstone.