"My name is Binky Griptite," the guitarist announces. "Tonight, for your special pleasure and enjoyment, we have for you a super soul sister that's been exciting fans across the world with her exciting and dynamic new sound. I'm talking about one hundred and ten pounds of soul excitement, coming for you! I'm talking about the same soul sister that's brought you such hits as 'The Landlord'! The same soul sister that's brought you such hits as 'The Switchblade'! And the SAME soul sister that's brought you such hits as 'Damn It's Hot'! And now, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, Miss! Sharon! Jones!" The horns blare, the band kicks into its groove, and Sharon Jones strides onto the stage in the alternate universe where hard 1972-style funk never went out of style and she's the biggest star since Lyn Collins.
Except that that's how Sharon Jones actually does get introduced, and that universe is also ours, or at least theirs. Since the late '90s, the musical collective behind Daptone Records (and its house band, the Dap-Kings) has been cranking out fabulously tough funk 45s and LPs (and, with some reluctance, CDs), flawless replications of the sound and style of the James Brown revue's heyday: a funk, soul and boogaloo time machine. Jones is one of a half-dozen or so Daptone-affiliated singers-a dynamite crooner and hollerer with a spectacular, church-bred voice.
If all they had going for them was their mastery of a three-decades-gone style, they'd still be totally fun, but Jones and the Dap-Kings' repertoire is awesome, too. Last year's single "Genuine" and their new album Naturally's "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" are so good they sound like they have to be covers. They're not. And when the Jones and the band do pull out covers, they're often brilliantly unexpected. An immaculately reconceived take on Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" was a highlight of 2002's Dap-Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. And last year, during election season, they released a slow, minor-key funk grind through "This Land Is Your Land," Woody Guthrie's campfire standard, including the original verses about welfare lines and trespassing that usually get left out. In case anybody missed the point, the B-side was a fiery uptempo number called "What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?"
Jones has been paying her dues for decades, too. In the late '70s, she was in a band known variously as Deja Vu and Community Funk; she still sings occasionally with a wedding band ("It's great to see somebody's Uncle Bill come out onto the dance floor," she says), and plays organ and sings in church on Sundays. But she has wanted to sing soul ever since she was a little girl watching the Supremes on the Ed Sullivan show in the '60s. "We used to stand on chairs and sing into hairbrushes," she laughs, her voice a little frayed from months on tour-mostly across the Atlantic. "Europe's hungry for R&B, soul and funk," she explains. "They're into the albums, the 45s.... In America, everybody just wants glamour, they don't want a band on stage. We've gotta keep live music going so they have something to mix down later on."
"Europe has had a different appreciation of soul music from the beginning," bassist Gabe Roth says. (Roth is one of the masterminds of Daptone; on album credits and on stage, with his sideburns and sunglasses, he goes by the '70s-studio-guy name Bosco Mann. Jones calls him Bosco.) "There have always been funk collectors there-the Northern Soul scene in England, the acid-jazz scene. People there never gave up on that music; here, it's more people rediscovering it."
It doesn't hurt that part of Daptone's homage to the original funk aesthetic is that the label keeps the new records coming constantly. There's already been a post-Naturally 45-a funked-up cover of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition's "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)," which the band is selling at shows. The band has already written and arranged a gospel album they'll be recording soon with singers Naomi Davis and Cliff Driver, and the next Sharon Jones album is partly recorded. "Hopefully if we get off the road for more than a couple of days, we can get to a couple of those projects," Roth says.
And Jones has one other project in mind: thanking the man who created funk. "I never really got the chance to see James Brown live," she says, "except once. I remember going to a show at night, with my brother. James Brown was on stage, and his body was floating.... I must've been very young at the time. I really would like to meet him, and let him know how much I appreciate what he's done."
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings play with DJ Dan Blaker Tuesday, May 17, at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., 231-9663. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.