Album review – Dakota Jones: Black Light (Lord Please Records)

Is a second summer of soul upon us?  Ever since ‘Summer of Soul’ hit the cinemas a few weeks back there’s been a deluge of great modern soul records coming our way, from Rudimental’s great new album ‘Ground Control’ to essential new singles from Gideon King & City Blog and Joy Denelane.

Like the latter, Dakota Jones hail from New York and draw on a similar pool of influences encircling the central core of soul music.  This may be their debut album but they’re already a very finely drilled outfit, with arrangements that swing along effortlessly and four members that instinctively know how to give each other enough space to operate gracefully.   Tracks like ‘We Playin Bad Games’ or ‘Watcha Gonna Do About It’ seem to groove along with a minimum of effort, scratchy but funky licks from guitarist Michael Toles flicking the momentum along nicely without breaking into an ungainly sweat.

All of which is fine and dandy if hardly revolutionary.  What elevates Dakota Jones from the Championship of the respectable to the Premier League of the unmissable, is the lyrical world painted by singer Tristan Carter-Jones.

She says:  “I’m a black, queer woman expressing myself through love and music. Some folks still find that to be a transgressive act in and of itself. I work to fight that idea. I write a lot about my sexuality and the ways in which I express it. Songs about sex and love bounce back and forth between songs about heartache, hangovers and self-medication, and the pleasure and pain of truly finding yourself. I don’t think we get to hear these things from a woman’s mouth as often as we should.”

It’s true – and it’s quite a shock hearing the rawness and candid nature of songs of ‘Medicine’ (“I can’t be honest without my medicine”) or the “stretch marks and growing pains… pillow between my legs”  of opening tune ‘Did It To Myself’.

Other highlights?  The Joplin-esque waltz of ‘Like That’, with the Hammond keys of Jon Gilutin and strident backing vocals adding a gospel element to a song that tells of regret and self-recrimination.  Elsewhere, the Otis Redding-style horns of ‘Noise’ and ‘Lord Please’, almost completely acapella  with a Carter-Jones adding a brooding darkness that could be Tricky at his best.

Where some super slick productions are accomplished but just a bit too polished to really connect, Daktoa Jones have got the balance just right.   Tight and executed with precision  ‘Black Light’ may be, but it’s still, above all, compulsively honest and human.

John Robbins

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