Bettye LaVette|Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Retro soul's got to be damn fine to justify its existence, since the stuff it's modeled on is readily available for listening pleasure and embarrassing comparisons. Fortunately, the latest from Sharon Jones and Bettye LaVette qualify thanks to vocal authenticity and musical settings that offer inventive takes on the old blueprint. The Dap-Kings, whose skills are displayed on the most recent Amy Winehouse CD, avoid overemoting, opting instead for casual cool that's the aural equivalent of a sly smile. Jones, meanwhile, delivers the likes of "Nobody's Baby" with unaffected confidence. If the results aren't quite as thrilling as 2005's Naturally, the disc will still sound just as good, days or nights.

Crime is even stronger because of the unusual pairing of LaVette, a veteran of '70s R&B, and the Drive-By Truckers, who give Southern rock a 21st-century shakeup. Rather than trying to overpower LaVette, the Truckers, supplemented by Muscle Shoals vet Spooner Oldham, offer her raw-boned support that pays off on numbers such as the undeniably prime "Choices." Songs such as these offer justification for all.


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