The Christmas album can be everything from the classic to the shamefully opportunistic, and everyone from the New Kids On the Block to Kylie Minogue has had a crack at it. Even Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond have both put out Christmas albums, and they’re as Jewish as chicken soup. That Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are giving it a funky, soulful try could have been a cringe-worthy disaster. But, because obviously the Lord has a soul too, it isn’t. It is, in fact, quietly, reliably awesome.
‘Silent Night’ is not the kind of song you’d ordinarily associate with a small bar in the middle of the night. But you hear the Dap version of it and all manner of blasphemous imagery comes to mind. Like, say Jesus slow dancing with Mary Magdalene by the jukebox near last call. Much of the album is like that. ‘Silver Bells’, at least as Sharon Jones wails it, is not the kind of song you want to hear sans a tumbler of something strong in your hand. A Negroni would probably work best.
Imbibe. Sigh. Reflect. “It’s good to own land….”
The genius of the album, the whole enterprise comes from the arrangements. Jones and crew have never been about pastiche, more about holding onto a log lost format, embracing the very soul of music. In this Christmas album they do that, and take the likes of ‘Silent Night’, ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ and other standards and infuse them with a kind of Motown sound that while once was commonplace, it takes the likes of the Dap Records barn to bring them to life without them being a piss-take. This is a funky-as-fuck record, to quote Wilde.
Nothing is taken for granted here, there is nothing sly or coy, no winking at the audience that we’re all in on the joke. This isn’t a joke after all. ‘Funky Little Drummer Boy’ isn’t just an album highlight, it’s one of the better songs of the year and shows not only a love of the source material but a love of the form in bringing soul and carols together so seamlessly. The fact that Bing Crosby and David Bowie didn’t latch onto this as a perfectly awesome idea back when they did that freaky duet in the 70s is pretty much testimony to the fact that both were visionless fools. Try dancing to any other version of this song and you’d think someone had spiked the eggnog. Hang on….
Sharon Jones can do no wrong. There have been no moments in her entire catalogue of recorded material that did not ring true, that did not ache with conviction ion and … for the lack of a better term … SOUL. The woman sings from the very deepest, most honest places that can only be found in the vocal or musically gifted.
You’d hope this record gets as wide a distribution as possible, for it is as compulsory a Christmas LP since the Phil Spector production, minus the spoken word track which made his Wall of Sound effort just this side of creepy.
God bless us everyone, especially Sharon Jones.