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Jones’s final album, released roughly a year after her death, is a throwback in all the right ways: a vintage soul record that thumbs its nose at the 21st century in favour of era-specific methods and concerns. Recorded on eight-track, with frisky instrumentalists called, for example, Fernando “Bugaloo” Velez, and taking up just a lean, mean 36 minutes of your time, it is not really one of those albums in which a feted – or fated – singer mulls their approaching end, but a record replete with drama and succour that wrestles with the messy business of being alive.
Two tracks in, the sassy Sail On! opens with Jones’s lusty holler of “Oh no!”, a broadside quickly answered by the Dap-Kings’ horns, taken mainstream when, with producer Mark Ronson, they backed Amy Winehouse for Back to Black.
Written by Dap-King Cochemea Gastelum, Sail On! finds Jones contemplating paying back a former lover who didn’t help her when she needed it. Now he’s knocking at her door. “Tell me, tell me, where would we be?” she wonders. “Two people stranded without a helping hand.” She opens the door. The horns go big with approval.
The first half of Soul of a Woman skews hard towards upbeat songs, such as the hand-clapping Rumors, full of backing vocalists gossiping away. (Perky and righteous, Jones demands: “Are you a man of your word or are you playing?”) On the superficially easy-going Searching for a New Day, Jones is “once an ordinary girl” in search of the holy grail of much soul music – “some peace of mind”. She wonders what we would do with superstardom. “With my newfound fame, I could lend a helping hand,” she sings, “to all those in need, however I can.” Cue a trumpet solo by Dave Guy, silenced by a cruel fade.
The second half pulls in organs, forgiveness, orchestral sweeps and, on the self-penned Call on God, the Universal Church of God gospel choir. Loveliest here is These Tears (No Longer for You), where Jones, never showy, combines with her usual vocal co-conspirators, Saun & Starr, and the Bushwick Philharmonic strings to kiss a relationship goodbye. There is just the merest hint of an ulterior reading. “So long, I’m moving on,” Jones sings, ostensibly to the lover she won’t spill one more tear over. “I won’t cry!” pipe up the backing vocalists.