For classic soul and R&B flamekeepers it's been sweetly vindicating that the fiery music they love so well has been fanned anew, connecting with younger listeners via reissues of vanguard material and a recent wave of torch-carrying newer artists. The ascent of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, who will play the Bardavon Opera House on January 23, however, has certainly been extrasweet. After all, in an age of precious, Brian Wilson-wannabe indies and one trite teen tart after another, who could've foreseen both commercial and critical success for a horn-heavy, Stax-stoked outfit fronted by a 54-year-old former Rikers Island prison guard? But—hallelujah!—it's happened, testament not only to Jones's sweltering presence as a vocalist and performer and her band's consummate skills, but also to the timeless, undeniable power of the music itself.
Jones met up with an early incarnation of the Dap-Kings, who serve as the house band for bassist Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann) and saxophonist Neil Sugarman's Daptone label, in the mid 1990s, when she appeared as a backing vocalist on a session by singer Lee Fields. Blown away by the Augusta, Georgia-born Jones's sheer talent and authentic, heartfelt style, the group decided to record a track with her on lead vocals for its own album; by 2002, Jones's name was out front for the band's official debut, Dap Dippin' with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The disc quickly caught on with deep-soul DJs and collectors, leading to the extensive international touring with which the act firmly established itself as a club and festival favorite capable of kicking out the kind of gospel-rooted, gut-bucket funk 'n' stank unheard since the 1960s heyday of Muscle Shoals Studios.
Jones and the Dap-Kings' follow-up, Naturally (like all of their albums, on the defiantly analog Daptone Records), came out in 2005 and brought even more accolades and new fans. It also caught the ears of some high-profile music-biz figures, including British producer Mark Ronson, who had been searching for real-deal, old-school soul players to back Amy Winehouse. The result: That's Brooklyn's incomparable Dap-Kings you hear behind Winehouse on her million-selling 2006 breakthrough, Back to Black (Island Records). After sessions later that year, Jones and the group unveiled 100 Days, 100 Nights, the storming set now regarded as one of the so-called retro-soul genre's essential albums. The band's acclaimed fourth outing, I Learned the Hard Way, arrived in April 2010.
But despite their many fine recordings, it's the live stage, of course, that offers the ultimate Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings experience. With a sweat-dripping Jones at the fore, delivering heated, blues-soaked testimonials and dancing the funky chicken, and the nine-piece Dap-Kings cooking and sizzling their way through rump-rolling grooves behind her, it only takes a few bars to make you a believer for life. And if you ain't one already, you'll get your chance this month.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings will perform at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie on January 23 at 7pm. Tickets are $47 and $42. (845) 473-2072; www.bardavon.org.