Daptone Records (2010) US
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are already well known as one of the most exciting acts in the nation for both their explosive live shows and their prolific output of gritty studio recordings. I Learned The Hard Way is their fourth full-length release on Brooklyn's independent Daptone Records and marks a bold step forward for a band that almost single handedly stewarded today's return of soul music to its more traditional sound.
And there's no arguing the fact that the band remains leaders of the contemporary soul scene. From the involved arrangements to the vulnerable emotions and realized energy, everything you could possibly want is here, and how. Jones' blue-collar background--she's worked prison security and at an armored car company in between music gigs to pay the bills--give her instant street credibility and perspective that comes out in her truthful singing. This band is no boardroom creation or tabloid sensation, and I Learned the Hard Way is the real deal.
Produced by Bosco Mann and recorded on an Ampex eight-track tape machine by Gabriel Roth in Daptone Records' House of Soul studios, the record drips with a warmth and spontaneity rarely found since the golden days of Muscle Shoals and Stax. Jones' raw power, rhythmic swagger, moaning soulfulness, and melodic command set her firmly alongside Tina Turner, James Brown, Mavis Staples, and Aretha as a fixture in the canon of soul music. From the lush Philly-Soul fanfare that ushers in "The Game Gets Old" at the top of the record, to the stripped-down Sam Cooke-style "Mama Don't Like My Man" at the tail, the Dap-Kings groove seamlessly through both the most crafted and simple arrangements with subtlety and discipline. I Learned the Hard Way is the "Daptone Sound" at its finest.