A version of this review originally appeared on Heeb Magazine.
My dad was always a big fan of Christmas music. His vast record collection included a separate section just for yuletide LPs and CDs. Needless to say I grew up with an appreciation. To this day, within a fairly restrictive window of time, I’ll rock out to a Christmas jam here and there. Make no mistake, I’m discerning. Just because a band I like records an album or song, it’s not a guarantee I’ll be into it. Just the same, there are plenty of bands for whom I only like their holiday records.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings lie somewhere in the middle. I’ve always enjoyed their music, but I’ve never been a devoted fan. However, their recent holiday album has won me over and then some. It is the perfect blend of covers and originals. It’s somehow both refreshing and classic. It got me excited for Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and that is definitely outside of that window I mentioned.
Their holiday album kicks off with a truly fun, inspired, and original Hanukkah song. The rhythm section keeps it in the pocket, delivering a mid-tempo Motown dance beat. The bright horns bounce back and forth with the backbeat and the vocals, filling out the sound without knocking you over the heard with it. The package particularly is reminiscent of the Tyrone Davis classic “Can I Change My Mind?” (no, not that Pietasters song).
But the soul party has just started. Another original, “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects,” previously released on a 7inch in 2009, is a soundtrack-worthy 70s soul jam. The Dap-King take on “White Christmas” channels Tina Turner, putting a really high-energy spin on the tune you’re familiar with. “Silent Night” has to be the bluesiest version I’ve ever heard.
The band strips down to just guitar, trumpet, and vocals for the original “Big Bulbs,” a pseudo-accapella tune with a heavy swing that allows backing vocalists Saun and Starr to shine (Watch this behind the scenes video). “Funky Little Drummer Boy” wins points for effort, but I think they could have been funkier, and really brought a bit more Clyde Stubblefield into the mix. “Silver Bells” is the most adventurous track, weaving in and out of different flavors of souls. The album closes with an instrumental version of the carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with bari sax so funky you make that stank face when you hear it.
You can listen to the album now on most streaming services. The limited edition Red Vinyl LP is available for pre-order now, by itself or bundled with other holiday-themed SJ&TDK goodies.
Big Tunes: 8 Days of Hanukkah, White Christmas, Big Bulbs