Daptone Gold Comp
(Daptone Recording Co.; 2009)
By David M. Goldstein | 22 January 2010
Like this could ever be bad. That rating above? Designed to draw your attention to the text though you already know what you’ll read because that rating is pretty clear. Because really, being objective about a 23-song Daptone Recording Co. compilation is akin to reviewing puppies, root beer floats, or the Super Furry Animals; you don’t need Cokemachineglow to tell you Daptone Gold will significantly enhance most aspects of your life.
Thus: consider this more a public service announcement than a proper review—this every Cokemachineglow writer is allowed per year (it’s in our charter) and I’m cashing in early. And so, longtime readers may have at least a passing familiarity with the Daptone Records stable, likely via flagship act Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, which makes explaining my praise mostly superfluous. But, for the uninitiated: Daptone comprises a Bushwick, Brooklyn-based record label devoted to the singular (and noble) pursuit of creating soul records like they used to—which means entirely to analog tape with crack live musicians, all of whom collaborate on one another’s records with the effect of forming, practically, a Daptone “house band” not unlike the JB’s or Motown’s Funk Brothers. The Budos Band shares members with the Menahan Street Band who shares members with the Dap-Kings, and so on. Take the incestuous Chicago post-rock bands of the mid to late ’90s (Tortoise, Isotope 217, Chicago Underground Duo) swapping members with regularity to put out not-bad records on the Thrill Jockey label and you get the idea.
Nothing on Daptone Gold sounds like it was recorded after 1975, and this is precisely the point. Some of Daptone’s artists, in particular Lee Fields and Naomi Shelton, were even, once, James Brown’s contemporaries and now enjoy a second career wind with an audience too young (or too unborn) to catch the goods the first time out (or to know the difference this time out). In that sense, this compilation serves as a clearing house of sorts, compiling previously released hits with difficult-to-find one-offs and hand-picked deep cuts, all shrouded, wrapped lovingly, in a thick, obvious timelessness. Since Douglas Wolk’s thoroughly exhaustive liner notes already go meticulously track by track, I won’t, but he pretty much says each track never has a chance of being “bad” so much as “less good,” which gives you (again: the uninitiated) enough to intimate how thoroughly satisfying this label’s music can be given its limited premise.
Sharon Jones remains the Daptone’s goodwill ambassador, her Aretha-friendly charisma with backing band the Dap-Kings garnering a healthy six tracks. Equally revelatory are singles from gospel monger Naomi Shelton and (relative) newcomer Charles Bradley; the latter’s “The World Is Going Up in Flames” collaboration with the Menahan Street Band is as overt a “World gone wrong!” barnburner as you’re going to find here. On the tails of last year’s fantastic My World, Lee Fields continues his hot streak by paying off his debt to Otis Redding with “Could Have Been” and then straight up ranting on “Stand Up,” the opening bassline of which could legitimately be the funkiest nine notes in the history of recorded music. Elsewhere, young blood the Budos and Menahan Street bands are entrusted with instrumentals—the brothers Budos prefer blaxploitation rave-ups while the Menahan Street Band epitomizes languid cool. Immediately note the iconic horn line in “Make The Road By Walking,” sampled by Jay-Z for “Roc Boys,” a cool thing for Jigga to do, fleshing out a tale of his young life slinging dope in the Brooklyn projects by copping from a Brooklyn band whose song was recorded at an address a twenty-minute walk from the Marcy Projects where he grew up. Never let it be said that the man ignores his roots.
Of course it can be said that none of the Daptone bands necessarily bring anything “new” to the table, but why mess with a formula so winning? With a label so workmanlike and sincere; not for nothing that every one of the artists featured on Daptone Gold tours like crazy, often as double or triple bills, sticking true to their mission statement and still seeming to mine so much enjoyment from so staid a sound. Daptone Records continues to do God’s work, and Daptone Gold is a worthy victory lap. But you knew this already; you’re just out throwing flowers with the rest of us.