Listening to the lyrics of “Retreat!”, the first track of the new album by this rip-roaring, bombastic super set of musicians, it sounds like your typical tale of deceitful lovers getting their just rewards. Standard fare for this team of talented entertainers. But once you understand the events that transpired over the last seven months for front-woman Sharon Jones, you may want to consider it on a deeper, more personal level, and you wouldn’t be faulted for doing so either.
The album was originally set to drop back in August, but its release and subsequent world tour was postponed when Jones was diagnosed with stage two pancreatic cancer in June. Although the record was fully formed, recorded, mixed, and mastered in August, many if not all of the songs on it and the stories told within them have taken on an undeniable second meaning.
Thus the metamorphosis of the initial track’s story from tale of a scorned lover giving a razor-sharp warning of retribution if he drops by again to that of a cancer survivor warning the disease that ravaged her body not to even think about plotting a second attack, because she’s through with it. Retreat, Jones says with immense control and renewed confidence, you’ll never win. Similarly, it’s how a song like “Now I See” can be at once a statement of acceptance of the harm done by a caustic relationship and desire to move on as well as an anthem of returning to self-confidence after dealing with an experience of a rockier and even more profound sort altogether. Each song is given new, deeper significance.
It’s not just about getting over the pain and anguish that comes from these torrid relationships, it’s also remembering how to live once they’ve passed. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the current single “Stranger to My Happiness.” More than any terrible relationship, a six month bout with cancer– or any length for that matter– can not only do damage to one’s confidence, stamina, and energy, but also one’s ability to recognize and appreciate the simple things of life like the feeling of being happy.
The fact that these songs have taken on this second meaning is not lost on Jones either. In addition to highlighting “Retreat!” as a clear example of the additional layer of significance that’s been added to the album, she tells NPR that she did in fact have to relearn how she interacted with the music period as she began to heal. The thing that had always brought her such boundless happiness and joy in the past became something she couldn’t bear to listen to or even consider during her days and weeks of chemotherapy.
With her last chemo session coming just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Jones is fully engaged in the recovery process, and both she and her band are ready to take to the road once again. In many of her recent interviews it’s easy to spot the themes of getting second chances that are present in her words. She talks a lot about saying goodbye to the “old Sharon” and being ready to accept and embrace the “new Sharon.” It’s not an easy process, but it’s necessary. Speaking with Vice music blog “Noisey,” she said:
“When I come back my main thing is I know I’m not going to be there because of the way I look. I’m going to be bald. I’m not going to put a wig on. I’m not going to come out with some braided wig on my head to look like I looked before. I’m going to be bald. I’m not going to have my little shimmery dresses when I start back out because that’s the old Sharon.”
Old Sharon or new Sharon, she’s looking forward and staying positive, and if last week’s performance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is any indication, she and the band are both ready to go, no doubt all the more grateful for each opportunity they have to do their thing together.
Certainly this theme of gratitude will be at the forefront of their minds as they kickstart their tour this February (Boston, surprisingly, is not currently listed as a destination, an oversight I hope to soon help remedy with the help of steady use and promotion of their tour hashtag #WeWantSharon. Join me!). It’s a theme that is also particularly noticeable on tracks like the feisty “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” and the more subdued but no less urgent “We Get Along.” Sharon Jones has the unique misfortune of being someone who’s gone through the fire and come out visibly shaken but equally renewed on the other side.
Whether you’ve been through the sort of harsh and tumultuous realities as well, searching high and low for the gospel of peace, love, and understanding, or just looking to feel the simple joy and satisfaction of good, solid music, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings live out the title of their new album, giving the people what they want, while no doubt also trying to get them what they need as well.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give The People What They Want
Listen Now: “Retreat!”, “Get Up and Get Out”, “You’ll Be Lonely”, “Slow Down Love”