"SNL" appearance jump-starts Sharon Jones album

Fri Mar 26, 2010 9:35pm EDT
 
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By Mariel Concepcion

NEW YORK (Billboard) - When Canadian singer Michael Buble asked Sharon Jones to join him for a "Saturday Night Live" performance of their song "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" from his 2009 "Crazy Love" album, things kicked into high gear for her band, the funk-soul group Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

"Our fourth album was due in May, but after the performance with Michael Buble and all the hoopla surrounding it, we decided to push the release date up," the 51-year-old Jones says about the act's fourth studio album, "I Learned the Hard Way," due April 6 on Daptone Records. "Thankfully, the album was already finished -- we just needed to get promo going and a couple of things that were still in the works."

The new album is a departure from the group's last effort, 2007's "100 Days, 100 Nights," which sold 105,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That album featured sassy lyrics and a raw, bluesy sound, while "I Learned the Hard Way" is darker in subject matter, featuring songs about child abuse and relationships gone wrong, and more ambitious in scope, with a live orchestra on almost every track.

The "SNL" performance was an ideal way to get the marketing campaign for the album rolling, according to Daptone general manager Cathy Bauer. "The performance was a notable part of the rollout -- it came from another camp, but it turned out really amazing," she says, adding that since then the group has secured appearances on BET's "The Mo'Nique Show," Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" and "Inside Scoop," and CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson."

The promo campaign is big on social media: The band is giving away test pressings of "I Learned the Hard Way" on its Twitter page and recently hosted a Twitter contest to win concert tickets. It also provided its Twitter and Facebook followers with the exclusive password to its album presale, from which 15 percent of proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders to help Haiti and other disaster-stricken countries.

The Dap-Kings also have their own iPhone application; an exclusive Jones app is in the works.

The band will start a worldwide tour April 10 in Paris, followed by London, Berlin and Amsterdam and two dates at New York's Apollo Theater, among other stops.

When things slow down, Jones, who once was a prison guard at New York's Rikers Island and had a small role in the Denzel Washington film "The Great Debaters," says she hopes to find time to pursue acting again. "If people come knocking on my door looking for my soulful sounds, then that's good -- I pray more people come my way. But maybe if Denzel does another movie, he'll ask me to be in it," she says.