Sharon Jones survivor story is well-known to her loving fans: Jones beat pancreatic cancer in 2013 and circumvented the music industry more than a dozen years earlier. She’s never been short on insight or frankness when confronting those matters, as seen at the 2014 EMP Pop Conference keynote panel and her recent appearance on Billboard’s Soul Sisters podcast. The documentary Miss Sharon Jones!, directed by two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple (Harlan County, USA; American Dream), is an unflinching verite account of both those fights. It’s a must-see for fans, but also an insightful intro for neophytes who’ve only heard the Dap-Kings on Amy Winehouse records.
So what do those neophytes get when they pick up the soundtrack? It’s odd to categorize the release outside the context of the film itself. This isn’t quite a Greatest Hits, but it’s damn near impossible to put together even a mediocre Sharon Jones compilation, and the soundtrack looks at her career from a unique angle. As a kiss-off to a no-good man retrofitted to her defiant stand against her disease, “Retreat!” belongs at the top of the tracklist. It’s become an anthem that embodies what she and the Dap-Kings do in the face of turmoil—and may very well be, after all this time, her signature song. The film also seems to posit 2007’s 100 Days, 100 Nights as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings’ signature album, with five of its 10 songs (including the Motown-inflected “Tell Me,” the Etta James-ian soul-blues of “Let Them Knock,” and the slinky title cut) making up nearly a third of this soundtrack. And cuts from succeeding albums I Learned the Hard Way and Give the People What They Want round things out, making Miss Sharon Jones! more of a synopsis of her and her band’s last 10 years than the deeper examination fans might hope for.