Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
I Learned the Hard Way


4.0
excellent

Review

by Keelan H. EMERITUS
April 8th, 2010 | 18 replies | 5,499 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist


The current crop of indie-rock upstarts seem to have an infatuation with the old. Sure, music has always taken from its roots, but with bands like Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Shins, it goes beyond that. They seem to want to have their music drip with their own sweat as they sit on their porch in the Appalachians, or drip with the ocean waves by their surfboards. This revivalist trend is not necessarily a bad thing, and I wouldn’t fault any of those groups for their sound– they do it well. However as with anything, people seem to have some sort of unconscious tolerance level that tells us to immediately begin writing something off as less than genuine. Whether that is even fair does not matter, it just simply happens. So while 2010's debut darlings Surfer Blood and The Morning Benders survive because they’re just really good at what they do, numerous other bands are written off for simply aping trends. With this in mind, enter Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ new release I Learned the Hard Way. As with the rest of the band’s catalogue, the revivalist trend is taken to the extreme end. Hell, they sound like they’re actually from the pinnacle era of soul, not just mimicking it.

In part this is why the group has always been a success, and I Learned the Hard Way is no different. With their use of analog studio equipment, the group manages to capture a sound that seems so genuinely old, that if it were placed on the radio next to Otis Redding, you’d be hard pressed to tell that there’s about 50 years or so separating the two artists. Of course it’s one thing to sound like your predecessors, but that doesn’t eliminate the risk of your audience reaching that unconscious level of sourness; that uncanny valley. There is really only one thing that keeps Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings from falling into that pit: they’re really talented. As the front-woman, Jones’ voice is immediately gripping, taking you through the ringer on “I’ll Still Be True” swooning your soul on “Window Shopping”. It’s a voice that simply demands attention, as the best soul voices always are. Jones knows how to use her great range and soulful sound to colour these twelve tracks from simply good songs, to great ones. And that’s not even mentioning the horn section.

The Dap Kings deserve special mention themselves as incredible backing band. Opener “The Game Gets Old” welcomes the listener with a line that immediately reflects why the horn section is so well respected. The rhythm section is solid, ditto with guitar and backing vocals, but it’s the horns that are the reason why there is that “& The Dap Kings” tacked on to Sharon Jones’ name. They’re given a solo chance to shine on instrumental “The Reason”, and do so with aplomb; you can almost picture the band swinging to and fro. That’s before the improvised middle section featuring some great work on the tenor sax. The rest of the album they compliment Jones’ voice perfectly; whether it be in the fire of “Money” or the minor key blues of the soulful highlight “If You Call”. They are the kind of horn section that every band leader dreams of– tight but playful, with incredible range and dynamics. Jones’ voice is certainly the highlight, but the album just wouldn’t be the same without such a high quality band backing it.

Now a few albums into their career, enough to call them seasoned pros, and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings still steadily move forward with their seemingly tireless brand of revivalist soul. Tireless because the band is just so damn good at what they do, it’s hard to dismiss. Despite are (curiously shortsighted) distaste for bands that “don’t evolve” or “don’t add anything new to the past”, I Learned the Hard Way succeeds (maybe because it stares that silly notion right in the face and says “get lost jive turkey”– okay maybe wrong era, but you get the point). Most importantly it’s hard to argue against Sharon Jones because her voice makes you positive she could probably kick your ass. Not that it’s some sort of beastly, aggressive voice, but because it is a passionate one, full of fire. So pretty much if you don’t like this, you ain’t got no soul.



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user ratings (25)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
thebhoy
Emeritus
April 8th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thebhoy back with a vengeance. First review in a while and I think it's one of my best for a while too. This shit's good.

Mendigo
April 8th 2010



2299 Comments


very good review, I'll make sure to get this since I just recently developed a taste for soul, both old and new one.

Kiran
Emeritus
April 8th 2010



6001 Comments


mmm yes thank you for doing this

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 8th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

already Air, I'll go read your Jane Doe review, but it's hard for me to comment, never listened to the album.

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 8th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

haha, it was a mild allusion to that yes. Though I do not endorse Freud, I found the term and analogy useful for my main point. I commented on your Jane Doe review.

Ponton
Emeritus
April 8th 2010



5790 Comments


Ace review, Keelan, wow.

AggravatedYeti
April 8th 2010



7684 Comments


great stuff here Keelan.
Ive seen these guys live before and they put on a great show, never bothered picking up one of their recordings though.

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 9th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks guys, once again this will get overlooked. Why I even bother Sputnik

robin
Emeritus
April 20th 2010



4248 Comments


im really digging this stuff. i have 100 days/100 nights so feel i better go to this one next. and i never overlook you =)

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 21st 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

aww shucks. I need some more of their back catalogue too.

Kiran
Emeritus
April 22nd 2010



6001 Comments


yeah i love this, so cool

Lakes.
April 22nd 2010



26924 Comments


i heard about this on NPR. imma check this out sometime

Digging: The Suicide Machines - Destruction By Definition

CelestialDust
April 27th 2010



3155 Comments


sounds really good on colbert

Oswig328
June 30th 2010



29 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review for a great album, glad this didn't go completely unnoticed by sputnik. Also, I agree about her being able to kick some ass...apparently she used to be a prison guard haha.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
June 30th 2010



15019 Comments


bcuz shes fat (it had 2 be said)

thebhoy
Emeritus
July 1st 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

well I probably misused the term revivalist on some level but I don't give a shit. She uses recording technology from like the 50's and 60's and approaches song writing in a similar fashion to Otis Redding.

liledman
September 16th 2010



3826 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

getting now. great review as usual man.

thebhoy
Emeritus
September 16th 2010



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks, this will be on my year end list.



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