June 22, 2017

A Retro Sound In Modern Times: The Revival of Soul Music

By Nicole Amine

Growing up musically inclined in the Metro-Detroit area, Motown was an extremely important part of who I would later become as a musician. While many people can recite the lyrics of “My Girl” off hand and immediately recognize the soothing vocals of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, it is often forgotten how important Motown and soul music are amongst history. Aside from musicians, Detroit natives, or soul music gurus, many Americans’ musical roots lie somewhere between 1960s psychedelic rock and 1970s and 80s power pop.  However, over the past few years, American ears and charts have heard and seen an increase in the amount of artists participating in the revival of soul music. Artists such as Leon Bridges, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings have taken what they know about soul and Motown, added a modern flare, and produced a fresh, exciting “New Retro” sound for present-day audiences.

St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a six-piece soul band based out of Birmingham, Alabama known for their electrifying sound crafted around front man Paul Janeway’s powerful vocals. “Though all of our stuff has a vintage sound to it, the songwriting and some of the procedural things in our songs are a little different than in the days of classic soul. We’re not trying to make ourselves sound like an old soul band; we’re trying to make soul music in a way that feels genuine to us. We’re not really smart enough to rip off and write songs that sound like Otis Redding or James Brown. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got,” Ben Griner, trombonist and tuba player for the band, told Amy Price in an interview for Soundcheck Magazine. The band formed in 2012 and recorded their first LP Half the City in January 2013. The album was produced by Ben Tanner of fellow Alabama-based band, Alabama Shakes, and was released 18 February 2014.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are an American funk and soul band heading the movement to re-capture the essence of funk and soul music at its height in the mid-1960s and 1970s. The band began its revitalization of soul music in the early 2000s and quickly became known for their energy on stage and their 1960s-style soul revue shows. Jones achieved breakthrough stardom in her late 40s by channeling soul artists such as James Brown in their prime. While major labels turned her away, she was picked up by Daptone Records, a label that specializes in bringing back the vintage sounds of soul, funk, and Latin music.

Macintosh HD:Users:nicoleamine:Desktop:maxresdefault.jpgPaired up with the Dap-Kings, a band who formerly backed Amy Winehouse on her album Back to Black, Sharon Jones took the world of soul music by storm. Where many newer soul artists tend to add a modern twist to their sound, Jones & the Dap-Kings stuck to the roots of soul, appealing to audiences all over the map. Although forced to take a break from performing after her diagnosis of Stage 2 pancreatic cancer in 2013, Jones returned to the stage stronger than ever in 2015 and continued to perform with the fierce accompaniment of the Dap-Kings. After a long, heroic battle with her disease, Sharon Jones recently passed away on 18 November 2016 at the age of 60. She was surrounded by her family and loved ones, including her band, the Dap-Kings.

Leon Bridges is an American gospel and soul singer/songwriter from Fort Worth, Texas. Formerly working as a dishwasher in his hometown, Bridges broke into the music industry after Austin Jenkins and Joshua Block of White Denim heard him playing his song “Coming Home” at a small venue to an audience of five. After recording and releasing a few tracks with the musicians of White Denim, Leon Bridges attracted the attention of a number of record labels, leading him to eventually sign with Columbia Records in December 2014. Bridges’ style resembles 1950s and 60s rhythm and blues and soul from the music he plays to the clothes he wears. Fort Worth Weekly described him as someone whose “music sounds like he looks.” When asked about his retro vibe and musical influences, Bridges humbly and eloquently responded, “I’m not saying I can hold a candle to any soul musician from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but I want to carry the torch.”

Soul music has been given a new life and sense of accessibility with the previously mentioned artists. While St. Paul and The Broken Bones and Leon Bridges display clear musical talent, their passion and dedication to the genre of soul music is what makes their talent speak to audiences all over the world.  The legacy that Sharon Jones left behind with her success with the Dap-Kings exhibits the impact she had on the music world, musicians and listeners alike. This rejuvenation of energy that soul music brings to the world is simultaneously giving old and young audiences something to be excited about, while also putting hope back into the future of music.