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REVIEW: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – I Learned The Hard Way

08/04/2010

Often imitated, never duplicated …

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings have been at the forefront of the 60s/70s soul and funk revival since the release of their 2002 debut and have inspired a new generation of artists to adopt the sounds of a bygone era, however none have quite reached the level of authenticity of Jones & Co.

Many write them off as simply a pastiche, or a kind of ‘tribute act’, however it is evident from their 4 albums (and numerous singles) that this isn’t some ploy to make a quick buck in a time where originality is all but dead and many are falling back on what was once popular; this traditional soul/funk sound is in their hearts, they live it and breathe it!

I Learned The Hard Way, their latest release on Daptone Records, carries on where breakthrough album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, left off. This time around some of the funk is toned down a bit and instead they seem to have adopted a more soul-orientated sound reminiscent of 60s soul divas and girl-groups, think of it as the female counterpart of Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It, only with tighter instrumentation.

The Game Gets Old

The album kicks off with standout track ‘The Game Gets Old’, a classic mid-tempo slice of soul that really shows off just how fantastic the Dap Kings are at what they do. They have been the ‘go-to’ band for many major projects over recent years and i’m sure this will continue after this release, however it’s their work with Sharon that really lets them shine. Her voice, the perfect balance between raw power and control, brings each of the 11 tracks to life (there is one instrumental) like only a handful of singers, past or present, can.

Lead single ‘I Learned The Hard Way’ will surely become a bit of a torch song for fans of the band, especially the ladies, as Sharon lets rip on her cheating man. The song is followed, fittingly, by ‘Better Things To Do’ where Ms Jones declares that she is over her man, belting out the hook “I have better things to do than remember you”. ‘Money’ gives us a glimpse at the harder funk edge that SJ&TDK fans will be familiar with but is lacking a little on the remainder of the album. This isn’t a criticism of the album, in fact I think it’s a good move on their part and shows that while they are perfectly at home funking it up, they are equally good at performing more soulful, melodic tracks, which only adds yet another weapon in their substantial arsenal.

Mama Don’t Like My Man

Other tracks of note on the album are the Gladys Knight-esque ‘Without A Heart’ and the acoustic closer ‘Mama Don’t Like My Man’ which, had it actually been released back in the golden days of soul, would have stood amongst it’s peers as a classic today!

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