Funky bassline, hammering and crashing cymbals and a silky smooth vocal with an opening lyric that grabs your attention – and that’s just the first twenty seconds of I Did It To Myself, the opening track on Dakota Jones’ debut LP Black Light.
The Brooklyn four-piece have created an album full of soul, modern blues and touches of jazz funk that feels both timeless and fresh. Some people may be aware of the band after one of their early singles Have Mercy became popular through an appearance on Netflix show Always Be My Maybe, but for others Black Light will be their first taste of Dakota Jones. What can they expect?
Soul. Expect soul, in all senses of the word. The music contains elements of that Stax sound, both old and modern blues as well as jazzy flourishes and soul-rock showmanship. And funk. Lots of funk. The album also has some of the best session players in NYC playing and singing on the record, having worked between them with legends such as Elton John, Chaka Khan, Beck, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Jackson Browne, BB King and Diana Ross (to name just a few). That isn’t to take away from the band themselves and their vocalist Tristan Carter-Jones who form a tight and exciting unit but it is a sign of intent and the quality of the songs that they’ve been able to enlist such an array of session talent.
You should also expect powerful, deep and honest lyrics. Carter-Jones puts it perfectly when saying: “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.” There’s a clever mix of head-on, in your face lyrics interspersed with witty one liners and subtle word play.
There are some brilliant tracks throughout the album. Blacklight is a gorgeous soul number about yearning, lust and sexuality which includes a tasteful guitar solo that adds to the track and highlights the quality of the musicianship on display here without degenerating into guitar-hero overkill. We Playin’ Bad Games is another outstanding track, driven along by a marching drum beat and funky bass, painted throughout by vivid, dirty guitar licks. This track is late-night dangerous love-on-the-run shit. It oozes and bubbles with the flavours of summer evening NYC, of new found freedom, of hip youth and of the escapism that those things bring.
Lord Please in some respects carries the most weight on the album. It is devastatingly raw, the lyrics begging a higher power to ‘please, help me help myself’. It is a sparse modern take on classic gospel themes, with only a distant and very occasional beat accompanying the vocals which ache with suffering. It’s emotional power is fitting for our times, as people everywhere wrestle with pain, personal suffering and societal injustice. On Noise those themes are brought to the fore in a different yet just as urgent way. Horn sounds introduce this rallying cry against injustice, Trumpism and inequality, as the lyrics ask people to join the fight and make noise to support not just herself but anybody and everybody who is suppressed in modern America.
Black Light is a great record and a statement of intent as a debut album. There’s lots to enjoy here and it suggests that Dakota Jones are a band with many influences, full of energy and brimming with potential. With the live circuit reopening in America I imagine the presence they will bring to the stage will be something pretty special. Classic funk, blues and soul rock, great musicians, a powerful black front woman on a mission – there’s nothing not to love. With that said, I think it is only fitting that Carter-Jones gets the last word on the album, as just like throughout this record, she says it best. “Black Light really dives into a place of funk soul and everything that comes with it. There’s joy and dancing, sleek guitar licks and funky bass slaps. There’s pain and longing, and there’s the feeling of relief when you come out of that place and find your joy and purpose again. Black Light is my story.”
Black Light by Dakota Jones is released August 27th 2021