Monday, September 8, 2014


The problem with the rush of technology that only seems to grow and grow, is the abandonment of perfectly good materials, replaced by the latest gear.  It's not that its necessarily better, just newer and faster.  In my brief life, I have seen, for instance, music go from vinyl records to reel-to-reel tape, to cassettes to 8-tracks, to the Walkman to CD's to the CD Walkman to DVD's to blu-ray to MP-3 and whatever else.   I'm sure there is something even more convenient out there now, but I'm perfectly happy with the brand-new, still sealed in package CD Walkman for five bucks from Value Village, thank you very much.  Sure, it only holds one disc at a time, but it also doesn't sound like crap like your MP-3.

We're discovering this, right?  There's a reason vinyl is hot, it sounds better.  And we're not just talking music where this happens.  The convenience of microwave cooking was long ago shown to be inferior to ovens, despite its greater convenience.  I'm no technophobe, but how much are we throwing out for no gain?

Here's what has inspired my rant:  For the past few years, Daptone Records has been thrilling fans of vintage 60's soul sounds with recordings by Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, among others.  These collections have proven there is still a big interest in basic soul music, that there was absolutely no reason to drop it when other forms came along, such as disco and hip-hop.  This is great music, whether it was made in Memphis in 1967 or New York in 2014.  Why should I not love it now, like I did then?

The other great thing about Daptone is that it has never been a retro label.  They aren't trying to recreate, they are advancing the music with new material.  Their artists, musicians and producers are creating vibrant songs that stand up to the classics, and make me question whether I want to put on an Aretha record today, or a Sharon Jones.

The big name at Daptone is Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens.  Where Bradley is from the James Brown-belting funk school, and Jones is Stax Records, Shelton brings the Gospel soul to the stage.  The backing singers, the Gospel Queens, are the response to her call, with smooth and rich accompaniment, much like the I Three's provided for Bob Marley.  Don't think this is a homage to Gospel, either.  This is the real stuff, songs of sinners, songs of praise, songs from a cold, cold, world.  Meanwhile, the tight, five-man group behind is driving along as crisply as the Hi Records group did for Al Green and Willie Mitchell. 

Recording in glorious mono, Shelton puts her gritty voice to the front, the emphasis and volume key to getting the passion across. The band and the singers push this material just as hard as any R'&'B, with stabbing rhythms, Steve Cropper-inspired guitar licks and joyous funk.  And those singers, such non-stop pleasure, first a line from Shelton, an "Oh lord" response from the trio, then a growl back from Shelton.  This isn't pretty singing, this is gruff, tough, and life-and-eternal damnation important.  But Shelton's there to lead you the right way, and everything is just exceptional.

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