[‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving and all throughout the Southland, people tuned their car radios to KOST 103.5 FM, and let the Christmas tunes fly. Yes sir, it’s the time of year to hate holiday songs! You’re getting sick of hearing another rendition of “Sleigh Ride” or “Jingle Bell Rock,” and you grate from the insufferable cheer of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” being played for the hundredth time, from every single store and station. Don’t fear, this three-part buyers’ guide is here to save you and your holiday. Of the many holiday albums that go on sale every December, the three I present span different genres, for any holiday mood or occasion.]
It’s a Holiday Soul Party
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
Daptone Records, 2015
If you find She & Him too twee for your tastes, you’re cordially invited to Daptone Records’ It’s a Holiday Soul Party! For the past twenty years, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings have helmed a revival of soul music that channels the spirit and sound of classic James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and have helped launched a thousand ships packed with fellow funky soul enthusiasts such as the Bamboos, Fitz & the Tantrums, and Amy Winehouse & Mark Ronson (with whom they’ve collaborated several times on Back to Black and Version). Even as she battled cancer, she stood tall by bringing the funk live every night and refused to hide her struggles behind wigs. Although she sadly passed away from a stroke earlier this year, she and her Daptones company left us with a parting gift of funky holiday tunes on 2015’s It’s a Holiday Soul Party!
Holiday Soul Party includes all your favorite holiday classics, of course, energized by rock-solid rhythms that will get your friends and family off the couch, shaking away their food comas. Traditional snoozefests especially benefit: Marty McFly broke into Bing Crosby’s studio and gave “White Christmas” the “Johnny B. Goode” touch, while “Silver Bells” rides along on a surf-rock beat straight from a Wigan Casino romper-stomper. But the Dap-Kings are not content with reinventing the wheel; they actually included enjoyable original songs of their own creation (no more Mariah Carey’s insufferably cheerful “All I Want for Christmas is You”)! Most fittingly, they poke fun at the trite repetition of holiday standards while mashing them up in “Just Another Christmas Song.” Culture warriors may also appreciate the inclusion of other holidays, with the inclusion of the cheerful and sprightly “8 Days of Hanukkah.” And kudos to drawing double entendres from the innocent activity of Christmas light watching in “Big Bulbs,” as they’re “flashin’ in your window tonight.
This Holiday Soul Party goes further than a flattering sonic pastiche of classic 60s soul. Most importantly, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings channel the social consciousness that made soul music channel so poignantly the hopes, ideals, and anxieties of African-Americans. “World of Love” hearkens back to the genre’s gospel roots with a sermon for peace among all people, of all religions and ethnicities. “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects” goes farther, targeting the disconnect between the holiday’s foundational myths and the socioeconomic disparities affecting people of color in America. In the song, a young girl asks her mother how can Santa deliver presents to her when their public housing doesn’t have a chimney for him to shimmy down, confronting the Santa story’s moralistic message with the systematic pervasiveness of poverty that affects African Americans. Ultimately, the young girl no longer believes in Santa, because she knows it was the loving hard work of her mother that made Christmas possible, year after year. With that, It’s a Holiday Soul Party delivers a new classic in the realms of holiday and soul music, combining joy, celebration, and social awareness in equal measures and in complementary harmony.
[It’s a Holiday Soul Party is available for streaming on your preferred platform and for purchase from your preferred retailer in digital, CD, or vinyl. If you wish to support the artist directly, I recommend purchasing either from Daptone Records or following the embedded player above to the artist’s Bandcamp page!]