Venerable soul label churns it out like it’s 1967
It’s easier than ever to find new music these days but good music is a much trickier proposition. Instead of trying to listen to every new band that gets dropped by a Hype Machine- approved blog why not focus on the folks who put their money where their taste is?
Finding a reliable label is an easy way to add a dozen new bands to your ever-growing roster of best-bands-ever. That’s exactly why Label Me aims to profile the best in the business from established favourites to cocky young upstarts.
Daptone focuses on doing one thing extremely well: Releasing music that sounds like it comes from some long-forgotten rival of Stax and Motown. With a crack house band (The Dap-Kings) led by label founder and bassist Bosco Mann and his business partner and saxophonist Neil Sugarman Daptone insists on doing everything old school. Recording is strictly analog without any digital fussing to smooth out the raw edges. And while the label isn’t above putting out CDs (though all full-lengths also come out on vinyl naturally) it’s one of the few labels with a real focus on 45s releasing 47 of them to date all recorded at the label’s Brooklyn home.
Where to start: For a label that’s been around for nearly a decade there aren’t a whole lot of artists on the Daptone roster so acquainting yourself with the full line-up isn’t exactly intimidating. But if you’re looking for a band-as-mission-statement you could do worse than the house band’s main project Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings . Jones is an absolute powerhouse singer as many readers may have noticed when she played the Folk Fest in 2009 and the Dap-Kings have a fluid tightness that you don’t hear very often. And even though it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to call the group a nostalgia project the group has the benefit of being able to draw from 50 years of soul tradition. That means you occasionally get a bit of James Brown mixed in with your smooth Motown soul and Ike-and-Tina-style R&B.
Digging deeper: She doesn’t have the label’s name built into her band but Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens might just be the label’s strongest asset. If you want to talk about track record members of Shelton’s band have played with James Brown and Wilson Pickett in the ’60s and on her Daptone debut What Have You Done My Brother you can hear every minute of those decades of experience. As the backing band’s name suggests Shelton’s crew aims to revive the holy spirit of classic gospel but the divide between her soulfulness and that of the Dap-Kings isn’t as wide as you might think. Shelton’s voice is more weathered than Jones’ but that just makes her sound that much more timeless — show someone the album’s title track and see if they can guess when it was recorded.
If you want to stray a bit from the ’60s soul template try the instrumental afro-funk of The Budos Band . Without a singer to distract crowds this up-to-13-piece ensemble (which has included members of label-mates Sugarman 3 and Menahan Street Band) pieces together Fela Kuti’s African rhythms with deep funk and jazz into a crowd-pleasing mishmash of horn-soaked beats. Like most of Daptone’s roster there’s a definite sense that the recordings only show a fraction of what the band would put out live but that’s less a criticism of the label’s all old-school mandate than an endorsement of its taste in musicians.
Further listening: If you want the fullest possible experience from Daptone eventually you’re going to have to track down all the 7-inch singles. Sure the label has put out a pair of compilations to collect much of its vinyl-only catalogue — along with this year’s excellent hits-and-rarities collection Daptone Gold — but given the label’s predilections they probably see those as a necessary evil. A lot of this music is best experienced in concentrated doses and mixed in with your best crate-digging finds from thrift sales and bargain bins. Sure some folks might accuse you of trying to recapture a bygone era that you weren’t even around for in the first place but where’s the harm in a bit of well-executed nostalgia?