Various Artists - Daptone Gold (2LP)
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The proudly retro Daptone label has seen its popularity rise from humble origins in 2000 to one of the world's most dependable sources of soul and R&B with extensions into gospel and world music. This compilation, released for Christmas 2009, rounds up 22 nuggets from the imprint's decade-long history. Taken as a whole, it makes a convincing case for Daptone having the potential to be the musical, if not the commercial, equivalent of a Stax or Motown of its time -- basically a record company with an identifiable sound. Since a handful of these tracks were only available on 45s, the set is more than just a "best-of" assortment as it unearths rare sides once the province of collectors. Not surprisingly, as Daptone's signature act, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings account for the majority of the nearly 79-minute playing time, with seven selections including the label's debut release, the vinyl 45 of the rhythmically jittery "Got a Thing on My Mind." The opening song, after a brief introduction from Dap-Tones' irrepressible guitarist Binky Griptite, is a Jones selection previously only on a 7", making its CD appearance for the first time. Antibalas and the Budos Band bring horn-oriented R&B to world music, tying the two genres to a logical base. Instrumentals from the Dap-Kings without Jones and Griptite & the Mellowmatics are a blast back to the '60s sides from Booker T. & the MG's and the Meters, but with a more sophisticated Daptone-styled New York vibe. Another rarity is Jones' smooth cover of Gladys Knight & the Pips' "Giving Up," a silkier shot of Dionne Warwick/Carla Thomas vocalizing different from most of the upbeat tunes in her catalog. Singer Lee Fields works a Wilson Pickett groove on the slow and grinding "Stand Up," another highlight in an anthology that has no weak cuts. Since this music is rooted in gospel, it's logical that Daptone branches out in that direction, too, with Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, whose three contributions come straight from the church. While there is an undeniable old-school approach to the Daptone concept, these songs are so melodically strong, and the performances so consistently inspired, that the album reaffirms your hope that someone is still crafting music as raw, rootsy, and furiously funky as this for a contemporary market. Judging from Jones' crossover success, Daptone has found its niche and audience. That makes this an indispensable addition to any soul lover's collection, regardless of age or demographic.