know she’s got soul: Sharon Jones at the Egg.
Your Ass Off
Jones and the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley
Egg, Jan. 22
is in the house tonight,” sang Sharon Jones as she ran onstage
at the Egg in a turquoise dress that glittered with fringe
and sparkles. Backed by her eight-piece Brooklyn retro-soul
revue the Dap-Kings, Jones belted out the heart-rending opening-number
“If You Call” and then shimmied energetically through the
more uptempo “Without a Heart.”
songs, and much of the set, were drawn from her latest album
with the Dap-Kings, I Learned the Hard Way. As the
title suggests, the album is rife with first-rate tunes about
hard luck and romantic heartbreak. But live, Jones—whose short
stature belies her power as performer—raises the energy level
to the rafters on even the most world-weary songs.
A few songs in, she danced like a dervish across the stage
during “When I Come Home” before executing a series of kitschy
dance moves from decades past—including the Boogaloo, the
Funky Chicken and the Tighten Up. The biggest wonder of the
night may have been how she pulled off the James Brown- worthy
moves in a pair of precarious-looking silver heels.
play all kinds of festivals, but it’s great to see you all
sitting here and standing up when we finish,” Jones said,
sounding truly grateful, as she thanked the almost-sold out
crowd in the Hart Theatre (according to a later post on Jones’
Facebook page, the Egg was just 18 seats shy of selling out).
“We’ve been doing this for a long time without the money.
We do it for the love.”
While Jones’ album may be all about the hard times, her past
year with the Dap-Kings has been pretty blessed—with a critically
acclaimed recording, performances on Jay Leno and other late
night talk shows, and an opening gig for Prince at Madison
Square Garden last week that ended with Jones onstage and
out-dancing the Purple One during his encore of “A Love Bizarre.”
Her moment has come, and it’s not so much a result of luck
as it is the culmination of years of hard work and constant
touring. A former Rikers Island prison guard, the 54-year-old
Jones also did time in numerous wedding bands before meeting
Gabriel Roth, the Dap-Kings’ bassist and co-founder of Daptone
Records, a label dedicated to vintage-sounding 1960s-style
soul and funk.
Grammys don’t recognize us because we’re independent. One
day they’re going to have to recognize this independent label,”
Jones said about Daptone before she ripped through an excellent
version of her fed-up-with-love anthem, “The Game Gets Old,”
faking a hook to punctuate the lyric, “I’m back in the ring
with my boxing gloves.” She explained that “Ain’t A Child
No More,” with its monster groove, was about a child too old
to take abuse from her drunken parents, and teased the crowd
before “Mama Don’t Like My Man” by showing off her vocal skills
on just a taste of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” All
great stuff, even if a few of her best songs were left out
of the set (“Money,” “Better Things to Do”).
As Jones pulled women from the audience onstage to dance with
her before the end of the show, it was not hard to see what
must have made her the best wedding singer of all time—a level
of showmanship and drive to entertain that could get even
the most boring party started. “Meet me by the merch table,”
Jones implored after an encore of her signature “100 Days,
100 Nights” and the sweet-Jesus gospel of “Answer Me.” Sure
enough, after the show there was Jones, making her way through
the lobby of the Egg to meet fans at the merch table.
The Albany audience was one of the first on this tour to see
what Jones and the Dap-Kings are calling their “Soul Review,”
featuring opener Charles Bradley, a fellow Daptone Records
performer, members of his Menahan Street Band and backup singers,
the Dapettes. Bradley, with a James Brown jones but shakier
looking knees, belted out some impressive sounding soul on
tracks from his recently released, No Time for Dreaming.
Egg, Jan. 23
It’s tempting to write 400 words on Esperanza Spalding’s Afro
alone—that incredible gravity-defying orb, which, like the
one belonging to Erykah Badu, seems the indelible mark of
superior soul—but that wouldn’t leave much for her voice,
chops and ensemble. Not that presentation doesn’t have quite
a lot to do with Spalding’s latest project. It’s just that
the loft of her Afro is only one element in the whimsical
stagecraft associated with her Chamber Music Society tour.
It’s been two years since Spalding’s performance at Schenectady’s
Music Haven Stage, and in that short time the 26-year-old
has gone from up-and-coming wunderkind to celebrated star
of contemporary jazz. Chamber Music Society has her
nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy, and she’s already
performing with the confidence of a Grammy winner.
The Afro first emerged before the curtain had been raised,
Spalding sauntering to an armchair situated stage left. In
a classier rendition of the Mr. Rogers routine, she shed her
coat and heels, parked herself in the chair and poured herself
a glass of red wine. As she raised her glass to the crowd,
the curtain raised, revealing a string trio, which commenced
the opening number. She wandered over barefoot, picked up
her comparatively enormous upright bass and began to play.
What followed was a sort of theatrical dream sequence, the
glass of wine opening the realm of Dionysus, which only closed
at the end of the second set, when Spalding returned to the
chair, put on her coat and wandered off.
The material from Chamber Music Society draws on Spalding’s
classical training but it unfolds rather as a saucy hybrid
of her soul-laced jazz and chamber sensibilities. The ensemble
is rounded out by piano and drums, with the cellist and another
vocalist singing harmonies. By now, the fact that Spalding
is an accomplished bassist seems almost incidental, as it’s
her voice that steals most attention. I hesitate to use the
word “scat”—what with its smarmy Radio Deluxe connotations—to
describe her sound-based vocal work, but it was in this mode
that she riffed her way through the album’s dense, elliptical
Certain tunes, like “Little Fly” and “Apple Blossom,” were
self-contained lyrical gems, but Spalding’s most impressive
pieces were the unruly, elemental instrumentals that blurred
the lines between composition and improvisation and opened
to solo sections in unorthodox places. Supported by a bed
of strings and Leo Genovese’s fine piano playing, Spalding
moved with joyful abandon around the stage, ad-libbing across
her vocal range, unlocking graceful bass solos, and tapping
polyrhythms against the body of her instrument.
Music Society (and the accompanying theatrics) is the
kind of project that most established artists drop mid-career
to flip the script, not as a sophomore effort to establish
one’s name. Somehow, Spalding’s already earned this though,
making her ambition at least as interesting to watch as her
burgeoning musicianship. I say, give Justin Bieber the Best
New Artist Grammy. Spalding’s already ready for something
Lena, Jan. 21
Not these guys. They have no use for it. They laugh, and the
world laughs with them. More than anyone else, The Wiyos,
a Hudson Valley-based trio of madcap musicians, can lay claim
to the mirthful mantle of Spike Jones and His City Slickers,
whose whistles, cowbells, gunshots, and Looney Tunes-like
vocal effects satirized Tin Pan Alley hits and classical works
during the 1940s and ’50s. Unlike Jones, though, The Wiyos,
drawing on a background of string band music, jug-band blues,
and swing, write much of their material, which they deliver
with Vaudevillian theatricality. Last Friday it all added
up to one zany show.
The band, who named themselves after the 1880s Irish street
gang the Whyos, formed in New York City in 2002 and honed
their entertaining skills busking there and in New Orleans.
Within a few years they were asked to play the Newport Folk
Festival, and from there it was on to the Kennedy Center Arts
Festival, the Lincoln Center Out-Of-Doors Festival, and eventually
a seven-week stint in 2009 opening for Bob Dylan. Currently
the band consists of Mike Farkas on harmonica, kazoo, banjo,
and washboard, Seth Travins on string bass, and former Hunger
Mountain Boy Teddy Weber, who joined the band in 2007 and
later replaced founding member Parrish Ellis on guitar.
The Wiyos opened with “Promenade,” an unlikely song about
a Scottish dance hall back in the day. Travins swatted his
bass with a drum brush, Weber fingerpicked his semi-hollow-body
electric guitar, and Farkas, an adept harmonica player, sang
and blew hot riffs that would have been more at home in a
Chicago-style blues band. Very strange.
Weirder yet was a long medley, loosely based around the movie
The Wizard of Oz, which Farkas began on harmonica with
a minor-key version of “Over the Rainbow.” Fast and slow movements
alternated, and among other things Frakas sang through a bullhorn
and hand-cranked a siren at seemingly random intervals, the
band played a disjointed version of “If I Only Had a Brain,”
and Farkas, adopting a Brooklyn accent, did an impression
of Burt Lahr’s famous portrayal of the Cowardly Lion.
Their only clunker was “Airport Baggage Handlers Suck,” a
litany of complaints about luggage checkers. C’mon guys, you’ve
opened for Dylan, now you’re jetting around to gigs other
musicians would kill for, and you kvetch about this? Suck
it up, already.
The opening act, the Honey Dew Drops, offered a pleasing mix
of bluegrass and originals in an early country music vein.
Laura Wortman’s strong lead vocals and the smooth picking
and harmony singing of Kaggey Parish and Barry Lawson bode
well for their musical careers. Look for the trio at the GottaGetGon
Festival in Ballston Spa in May.
Felice Brothers brought their busker chic to MASS MoCA
last Saturday (Jan. 15). The quartet, who got their break
playing subway platforms in New York City, have built themselves
quite a name on the indie-folk scene, having played at the
Newport Folk Festival and Bonnaroo. (You might also recall
they opened for the Dave Matthews Band last summer. NBD.)
The band’s latest LP is titled Mix Tape.