RATE I LEARNED THE HARD WAY:
The biggest compliment I can pay to Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings is also what makes their music borderline eerie to listen to – I always get the feeling I should have heard them a long time ago. And by a long time ago I mean throughout my childhood. They strive to revive their own brand of soul music and often succeed so well that it’s hard to believe these songs weren’t hits in 1967. I Learned The Hard Way, their latest and greatest album, is a throwback album in the purest sense of the term, and is tough to believe it was written and recorded in 2010.
The biggest reason I Learned The Hard Way maintains an air of timelessness and does not feel obsolete today is Sharon Jones herself. She is an outstanding and attention-grabbing vocalist, controlling entire songs from start to finish. She’s often able to effortlessly portray herself as simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. “Better Things” is one example of many on the record, with Jones forcefully moving on from past wrongs at the hands of a lover that comes across as both empowering and catchy as hell.
Jones’ backing band, The Dap-Kings, do not let themselves be overshadowed by the often larger than life songstress; the sound of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings is clearly a collaborative effort. As great as Jones’ voice is, it would not work half as well without the carefully constructed horn arrangements and infectious piano riffs. The Dap-Kings create an immediate and sophisticated backdrop for every track on the record and are able to make music that is a measured and informed tribute to a bygone era while remaining unfailingly creative.
The dedication of the band to recreating the sound of soul music in the late 60’s is commendable. They recorded the entire album on an eight-track Ampex tape machine, the kind of technology used around 50 years ago. The real achievement here, however, is how the album feels somewhat contemporary while staying true to the stylistic influences of countless soul and jazz greats. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings crafted an unorthodox classic that sets itself apart from most other great records being released today.