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Album review: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, 'Give the People What They Want' (Daptone)

A stalwart soul sister comes back fighting

There’s an old-school toughness about Sharon Jones, exemplified by the way the 57-year-old soul singer fought back after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring. Her natural ebullience still drives the splendid Give the People What They Want, a hook-laden affair keeping up the high standard set by I Learned the Hard Way and 2011’s punchy Soul Time!, as good an R&B album as any in recent years.

The bullish attitude is there right from the opening “Retreat!”, an assertive blend of Motown snap, Stax horns and Spector chimes in a retro-soul cocktail: “Step back!” she warns, “I’ll make you wish you were never born,” and you don’t doubt her candour. Under bassist/producer Bosco Mann, The Dap-Kings have developed into surely the ultimate soul band, perking like a coffee-pot as they pick and choose classic R&B elements for maximum propulsive appeal. “We Get Along” mixes Little Beaver-esque guitar licks and Donny Hathaway-style electric piano with a snappy groove; “You’ll Be Lonely” essays swamp-funk from peppy congas and clavinet, capped with a “Memphis Soul Stew” sax break; and “Long Time, Wrong Time” is a funk groove whose elements combine perfectly, especially the two rhythm guitar parts interlocking like those of Jimmy Nolen and Alphonso Kellum on classic James Brown hits.

For her part, Jones not only bares her heart via her delivery, but on tracks such as “Now I See” plays with the horns in classic soul-sister style, letting their riffs punctuate an impassioned vocal. “Money don’t follow sweat,” she sagely acknowledges in “People Don’t Get What They Deserve”, but with an appearance in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and a tour looming, 2014 could be the year that this terrific band gets the acclaim it deserves.

Download: Retreat!; We Get Along; You’ll Be Lonely; Now I See; Long Time, Wrong Time