The Album That Saved Our Lives

Sometimes an album comes along and you like it. It’s good, you dig it, your significant other digs it and you’re glad you spent the money on it. This was the case last year with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ Give the People What They Want. 

Generally speaking, Brielyn and I have wildly divergent musical tastes, but if you were to make a Venn diagram of the musical acts we mutually dig, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and their classic soul stylings would be right in the middle of the overlap.

A few months before our son Elliot was born, the band released Give the People What They Want. We eagerly anticipated the album’s release, which had already been delayed after Ms. Jones battled cancer in the summer and fall of 2013, and it didn’t disappoint. The group’s last album was a bit heavy on mid-tempo cuts and ballads. Give the People What They Want had a better mix of fast-paced dance cuts and grooving slower tracks for 33 glorious, concise minutes of music.

We had it on in the car a lot. It was playing April 28, 2014 as we went to the hospital for Elliot’s birth. It turns out Brie and I weren’t the only ones listening.

Elliot’s first few weeks in the world were rough for all parties. To say we were overwhelmed and adjusting to parenthood and he was difficult and adjusting to life on Earth would be accurate, if not understatements. He was just inconsolably miserable, screaming constantly and barely sleeping.

The not sleeping was a kicker. He would be exhausted and clearly in need of rest, but he just wouldn’t calm down and instead screamed and cried with no end in sight. Car trips stopped working consistently, feedings wouldn’t do the trick and it didn’t seem like there was anything we were capable of doing to soothe him. We were desperate and running low on options.

On a whim, Brie put on Give the People What They Want while I held him and by the time the bass-and-drum intro of “Retreat!” faded in and Sharon’s verse starts, he stopped crying. By the third song, the mid-tempo “We Get Along,” he was asleep on my chest. He slept, on my chest, through two spins of the entire album and another hour beyond that.

It became the new daytime routine. He’d be up for a couple of hours, cranky and in need of a nap, we’d throw on Sharon Jones. He’d mellow out and fall asleep on my chest within 10 minutes. We got through my 3-week portion of parental leave and most weekends this way. It worked for Brie when I went back to work and she was home and was the SOP until July or August, when we learned that if you just swaddled him like a burrito, he’d sleep without music. It was blessed relief, and not a one-shot deal. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were the soothing parental unit he was seeking that whole time.

It eventually became a recurring joke; we’d ask Elliot if he wanted to listen to “Mama Sharon” and he’d clap his hands in anticipation of listening to the album yet again. After solving the sleeping riddle, the album soothed him during regular hours. As he got older and could crawl, he’d pull himself near the CD player to listen.

Over a year later, it’s still a guaranteed relaxation device. When he was distraught after his first baby gymnastics class, it was Give the People What They Want that quelled the tears.

I tried reaching out to Sharon Jones for an interview, but mostly so I could tell her what her album did for us. Unfortunately her cancer recently returned and she was undergoing treatment, so she wasn’t doing any interviews or media rounds. She’s still touring this fall and winter and Brie and I will be seeing her show in Albany in December. Last time she came to town, she stayed after the show to meet fans. I’m hopeful it’s the same this time around. Just so we can say thanks.