Soul of a Woman is the last time we get to hear Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings dance together. It’s the last time we’ll hear them tell new stories with decades-old sounds. And it’s the first time I’ve realized I’m going to miss her.
The opener, Matter of Time, is a fitting cry for justice in what’s been a shit year for American society. But there’s a certainty in this song’s hope—a determination that “This is a song about peace,” not the trauma from which we need relief—which is probably why the treble is high and bright, the bass line skipping.
The song’s also chilling, since Sharon passed before its release and knew long before its release that she likely would. (Though, I suppose Sharon would hope we saw that as prophecy more than omen.) I’m also writing about this record after hearing that Erica Garner died—her death an example of us never getting things right in time for those who beg us to.
Well, well, well. I knew the guy in Sail On! was in trouble from the jump. One problem with short or selective memories is forgetting what others remember. And Sharon clearly remembers.
The way the band’s tone rides with her—the way it crescendos as her mood shifts into remember-what-you-did-to-me territory—is great. But the plot twist is the lyric about the shoe being on the other foot, our first clue on the record that there’s some mutuality to the indiscretions in these stories.
Just Give Me Your Time steps in with sounds of Leon Bridges’s Lisa Sawyer. It’s a plea to get past the past and to the point. Sharon’s critiquing the man's behavior and her own, though. She’s pacifying with “I can be gentle like I was at the start,” but also taking some blame.
Something about that also suggests this isn’t about commitment or redemption. I don’t get the sense there’s much interest in longevity. The more I listen, the more this seems to be about getting a fix; she may just want some (“Just a little time”). I— I think Sharon’s running game.
At first, Come and Be a Winner reads like Midnight Train to Georgia-ish encouragement. And it may be. But on the heels of Just Give Me Your Time, it feels like game. “Follow me; I’ll show you what you don’t know” suggests grass-is-greener with her, not just anywhere. It’s also classic flirtation by soul singers. There’s always been a coyness. (See, e.g., how even when Teddy shouts, “Close the door,” and we all know exactly why, it’s not like when Drake says he’ll get it from the back and make bra straps pop.)
In Rumors, Sharon marks the antagonist as a no-good, good-for-nothin’, low-down, dirty shame. But she’s willing to be proven wrong, to shrug off what she’s heard through the grapevine. If you think there are some mistakes from both, it’s interesting that she’s interrogating him for honesty (“You got to show me—don’t tell me—that you’re uptight”). But above all, that baritone sax bass line is A+.
Maybe the rumors were true. Maybe just feeling like she had to ask if they were was too much. Because in Pass Me By, Sharon’s leaving him behind. She says she’s familiar with the games, and I suspect that’s as player and as played. But either way, “I think you better pass me by” is GTFO wrapped in bless-your-heart permission. Note her intent to move on regardless—the difference between allowance (“You can”) and affirmation (“That’s what I’m gonna do”).
Searching for a New Day shines with confidence and resilience. The imbalance of her days and nights has led to an attempt at rejuvenation. She’s trying to push through, savior or not. She’s inviting us to empathize (“We’re just trying to get ahead”) by presenting the drive as universal. And clap, clap, bravo to that bright 70s sound and jazzy lead guitar.
In These Tears (No Longer for You), she’s still in the collapse of love, but moving on—far from over it, but done with being defined by it. The star is the track’s sound. It sounds like a cut from a blaxploitation soundtrack—like Marvin’s Anna’s Song and I Want You merged and maybe borrowed a little bit of Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky).
Reminiscing about love at first sight in When I Saw Your Face sets up second thoughts in Girl! (You Got to Forgive Him). The latter sets imperfect love as rich in opportunity you can still lose: “It’s a shame to lose a love so strong.”
Girl! is also perspective coming at her for the first time on this record. It’s her inner circle pleading, not the guy, because a leading male perspective is noticeably—and appropriately—missing from this album. But it’s external, nonetheless, backed by cinematic drama in the sound. I hear similarities to The Next Episode from The Chronic 2001. And the build-up of “Listen to this song” sounds like “Our voices will ring together, as one” from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Fantasy.
I’m not at all surprised the album wraps with an appeal for prayer in Call on God. Hymns over hims is consistent with the album’s theme. And ending Sharon’s last record with a song she wrote 40 years ago and sang for most of her life means goodbye as much as anything could.
November 17, 2017
Gabriel Roth · Neal Sugarman
Binky Griptite · Cochemea Gastelum · Gabriel Roth · Joseph Crispiano · Sharon Jones