For anyone not familiar with the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom”, the film highlights how, despite being talented artists in their own right, backing vocalists seldom get the opportunity to come to the fore and showcase their own artistry. Fortunately this is not the case at Daptone Records as Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe, who as “The Dapettes” provide backing vocals for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, have been granted such an opportunity as an act to step into the foreground with their debut album release.
Both grew up in the Bronx, NY and met at an open mic session in 1986, which led to the start of a firm friendship. When in 1990 they joined a professional function band, they were teamed with none other than Sharon Jones. Jones of course, would later go on to international success, fronting the Dap-Kings for New York’s Daptone Records and as the act and label grew, she called on the pair to provide BVs for the band’s 2008 album “I Learned The Hard Way”. Since then, their role has grown, firstly into the opening act for the label’s revue shows – and to now, as fully fledged artists in their own right with original material penned, backed and produced by the Dap-Kings.
They have grasped the opportunity with both hands and bring bags of enthusiasm, warmth, soul, professionalism and humility to the project. As expected, the Dap-Kings provide the solid-as-ever backing to the ladies’ versatile vocal and the sturdy production is the signature Daptone ‘House of Soul’ sound, employing a wealth of vintage methods to great effect. At times the stories are deep and heavy such as on “Dear Mr. Teddy”, the tale of a baker who cannot attend her cousin Betty’s wedding, as we learn that just days earlier she’d believed the eponymous groom to in fact be her man – and now in a twist of fate, she is charged with the task of preparing the wedding cake, something she does with quiet dignity. It’s classic heartbreak soul and handled with expertise all round. Never weighing too heavily, every deep moment is countered elsewhere with a sunny number. Very sunny in fact as there is such a good vibe to some of the proceedings that the good energy goes through the roof. “Sunshine (You’re Blowing My Mind)” is set to become a summer favourite; whilst “Big Wheel” will put feet on the dance floor at any party, especially as the lyrics entertain about the kind of guy who never should get an invite to said party, as he (Big Wheel) is always the one to get drunk early and run his mouth off. “Leave Big Wheel behind. He ain’t got no class at all”; “Roll on, Big Wheel” the ladies proclaim, in an irresistible style that would make Jean Knight proud. The fantastic backing on “Another Love Like Mine” is pure Isaac Hayes with The Bar-Kays, “Hot Buttered Soul”, dripping with poise and tension, shimmering guitar and heavy bass and drum accents; whilst “Look Closer (Can’t You See The Signs?)” and “Hot Shot” (the label’s best selling single to date) are both full strutting, uplifting grooves.
Adding another fine string to the Daptone bow, Saun & Starr glow on this well-crafted and charming album. For the pair, it has been a long time coming but now that it is here, it has been very well worth the wait, with huge measures of heart, soul and conviction, its a wonderful expansion to the soul universe.