Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Soul of a Woman
Sharon Jones was a 5-foot-tall, bighearted, soul-singing life force, and she displayed an indomitable spirit throughout the long battle with pancreatic cancer that she finally succumbed to a year ago this weekend. Though the Augusta, Ga., native took sick time off in the last years of her life, whenever she returned to the stage, the old-school belter and dynamic live performer from James Brown's hometown always came back undiminished, losing not a thing except the hair on her head as a result of chemotherapy treatments.
Such is also the case with this posthumous release with the Dap-Kings, her soul revival touring outfit and the house band for the Brooklyn label that's been so hard-hit of late, with Jones' fellow traveler Charles Bradley also dying of cancer this year. The singing on Soul of a Woman is every bit as rugged and energetic as Jones' vocalizations are on her seven previous albums, starting with Dap Dippin' in 2002. The album begins with the hopeful statement of faith that the world's problems will one day be solved on "Matter of Time," digs into a Memphis groove on "Pass Me By," and delights in Stylistics-style Philly soul lushness on "When I Saw Your Face," all the while displaying Jones' life-affirming mastery as a singer. And Soul of a Woman closes out on a spiritual note, seeking solace and resolution with a song Jones wrote in the 1970s, "Call on God," that she recorded in 2007 for a gospel album that never came to pass. — Dan DeLuca
It is odd thinking that what melancholy Swedish artist Jonatan Leandoer Håstad – Yung Lean since he joined Stockholm's Sad Boys crew at 16 — does is hip-hop. Even as a left-field rapper and producer, the music he's made as a sad boy or as a mopey soloist is bitterer, chillier, and more detached than Ingmar Bergman directing a Joy Division video (Lean shares Ian Curtis' dead-eye monotone) in Reykjavík. Yet the frost god – on this, his third full album — manages to add a tinge of humidity to his usually arctic cloud rap/glacial glitch-hop for something resembling rainy day electronica with a stiff, rhythmic kick and a halting emotionalism when it comes to his cut-and-paste lyrics.
With a cold, airy speaking voice that hints at melody and an awkward youth's flow, the breezy "Iceman" and the tinny industrialism of "Metallic Intuition" touch upon addiction and frustration without a drip of sentimentality. The slow-winded "Agony," too, presents stiffness and ire as positive rap-personality traits. There is, however, a loosening of Lean's vocal tones and lyrical lean on the contagious "Red Bottom Sky," a relaxed, singsongy tune complete with romantic, refrigerator magnet poetry and a weird magic all its own. That thaw is welcome and necessary when it comes to furthering — or at least heating — Young Lean's nippy agenda. — A.D. Amorosi
Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams
(Red House ***1/2)
It took quite a while for Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams to finally step out on their own. The couple had been content to be mainly accompanists for such artists as Levon Helm, Phil Lesh, and Hot Tuna (Campbell also spent eight years playing guitar in Bob Dylan's band). But, boy, did their instincts prove right.
Their second album under their own name offers another potent blend of roots sounds, but Campbell's writing – he penned eight of the 11 songs – cuts even closer to the bone this time. "In the light of day, all I see is the dark of night," Williams sings over the folk-rock of the set-opening "The Other Side of Pain." Campbell himself cuts loose with the howling cold-turkey blues of "Three Days in a Row." He's been there.
Yes, it can get pretty grim, but the word love is in the album title for a reason. The set is also about the life-affirming power of love and devotion, whether it's Campbell taking the lead on his majestic soul ballad "When I Stop Loving You" (written with Stax great William Bell) or Williams delivering an exquisite deep-country take on Carl Perkins' "Turn Around." And love and devotion, in their most selfless form, are at the heart of the searing "Contraband Love": "But the angels have all begun to cry," Williams sings. "They can't help a liar who believes his own lies. In sorrow they're gone, and now there's only me." — Nick Cristiano