"It's a Holiday Soul Party" by Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, 2015.
I’ve bought an unknowable number of records over the years. Being a cheapskate by nature, the number of new records is a more reasonable figure, in comparison to the mysterious infinity of the grand total. However, I have never bought a new Christmas LP… until now. Not even when Nick Lowe put one out. (I did buy the August Teens excellent Sleigher CD EP, however).
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings released their own holiday platter in 2015, and even though I knew it would be good — I own and love virtually everything else the group has put out — I couldn’t quite convince myself to pick up this album last year, for essentially one reason: the inclusion of an interpretation of “The Little Drummer Boy,” a song that is definitely in my top five most egregiously horrific concoctions ever created by songwriters. While I had confidence the Dap Kings could somehow salvage something good from the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum disaster zone, the 2015 holiday season came and went before I ever picked up a copy of It’s a Holiday Soul Party.
However, it is now 2016, and something far worse than a bad song is on record: The world has lost Sharon Jones to the pancreatic cancer she had been fighting for the last few years. It’s a bittersweet spin hearing this album now that she is gone, but also a comforting one. The music she created with the Dap Kings will be here long after all of us follow her to whatever awaits on the other side. And her genuine, caring personality will never be forgotten by anyone who had the chance to meet her, or just see her interact with fans at one of the regular post-show merch table sessions with concertgoers.
Enough existential musings; what about the music? Well, the aforementioned “Funky Little Drummer Boy” is indeed the only version ever waxed of this chestnut-that-should-roast-on-an-open-fire that I can enjoy. The martial beat is thankfully dispensed with for a mid-tempo R&B treatment. The album also includes a couple of the group’s previous holiday single A-sides, the instant classic “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” and Binky Griptite’s solo jam “World of Love.” There’s a few more new originals along with some nice takes on expected standards such as “White Christmas,” “Silent Night” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.”
"Please Come Home for Christmas" by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
Overall, it’s about as close to an essential waxing in anyone’s discography as a holiday release gets, thanks to Jones' soulful singing (with the help of backups by Saun & Starr, of course) and the rock-solid music of the mighty Dap Kings. As a bonus, the copy I picked up also includes a 45 pairing two of the album’s tracks (this version is available only from Barnes & Noble). Sharon Jones may have left us, but her music will live on. (Daptone DAP-037, 2015; with download code).