Although Sharon Jones may have passed away four years ago, her collaboration with the Dap-Kings lives on in another posthumous release. The latest collection of songs, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In), is a collection of songs the band had recorded over several years for various projects. In some cases, the band was tasked with covering a classic for a commercial or budget-conscious film soundtrack. In other instances, they were contributing to a tribute album. Regardless of why these cover songs were recorded, they all display the electric commitment, musicality, and vitality that are trademarks of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. By gathering together a disparate selection of songs, Just Dropped In illustrates that Jones and the Dap-Kings could do anything, and do it effortlessly.
The songs here are a slightly eclectic mix, but all delivered in the retro soul spirit of the best Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings tracks. The songs are mostly high-energy classics, like “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Rescue Me,” but every song is performed with the utmost commitment and joy. You would never be able to guess that these songs were technically made for workaday reasons, as Jones and the band put their heart and soul into every moment. This makes for an album that is eminently enjoyable and upbeat.
Each cover song here is largely to the point, without any extensive messing around. But that isn’t required, and in fact, the efficiency of each cover makes them even more impressive. The band doesn’t need to do much to make each song sound like it belongs to them. Even in songs like “Little by Little,” originally by Dusty Springfield, Jones and the Dap-Kings channel the smoky British soul of Springfield while at the same time keeping the spirit current and in line with their horn-heavy brand of American soul.
Similar results can be found in the covers of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” “Here I Am Baby,” and “Take Me With U.” The cover of “Just Dropped In” was inspired more by Bettye Lavette’s 1968 version, according to the band, rather than the more popular Kenny Rogers take. This selection of inspiration revives the song and returns it to a soulful place after hanging out in Rogers’ stoner-rock world. “Here I Am Baby” takes a vintage Marvelettes song and updates it with Jones’ sly, worldly vocals and a more laidback rhythm. The band covers Prince on “Take Me With U” and creates a looser, shaggier version of the funk Prince so carefully crafted.
One of the most creative covers on the album is “This Land is Your Land.” This makes sense, as songs as enduring as this one are prime material for endless creative interpretations. Jones and the Dap-Kings create a version of the Woody Guthrie folk tune that is thankfully nothing like the two-dimensional versions so many of us have to hear in grade school. The song begins with a semi-epic, slightly ominous musical moment. These horns morph into musical punctuation throughout the song, as Jones takes her time traveling through the verses. The instrumentation here and the complicated use of brass create a version of the song that colors the words with doubt. As Guthrie would have preferred, this version requires you to think about what you’re listening to rather than accepting it as patriotic pablum.
The back half of Just Dropped In plays around just outside of the soul sandbox. “Inspiration Information” adds in a bit more R&B in the vocals, while “In the Bush” and “Trespasser” bring out the disco-funk on songs that see the band turning their energy up to the max. Almost as if to illustrate just how flexible this band is, a warm and quite faithful version of “It Hurts to Be Alone” by Bob Marley and the Wailers sits in-between those electric disco jams.
These renditions by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings achieve a unique accomplishment: they are simultaneously as good as the originals while capable of standing on their own. If you’re a fan of any songs here, you are likely to enjoy the interpretations by Jones and her band. If you haven’t heard one or two original tracks, you will still find an album full to bursting with passionate, fun, and fully realized creations.