Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are very, very good at what they do. Their music seeps from the radios of ’50s doo-wop and the burning soul stacks of the ’60s’ tightest groups, with shockingly authentic retro production anchored by Jones’ high-energy howl. Although known for fiery live performances, the now-streaming album I Learned the Hard Way acts more as a slow burn, trilling horns and funk accents matching Jones as she sings higher and falls deeper into the quandaries of love.
In a Flavorpill interview, Jones decried facsimile imitation of soul flavor, saying that “When you hire me, Sharon Jones, you’re gonna get some soul.” And whether bemoaning her romantic relationships or yowling about “torture and trial” on the new album, you believe every word of it. Head over to NPR to stream the new album, and read more of our initial reactions after the jump, along with live videos that will make you a believer in the church of Sharon Jones.
Much like AC/DC or Sade, the Dap-Kings can essentially write the same song over and over again and yet the familiarity never dulls music’s power. The new album starts on a negative note, Jones trying to live on her own once again in “The Game Gets Old” or realizing her lovers cruelty in “I Learned The Hard Way.” However, “Better Things” begins with joyful sounds and background mutterings, the party after the breakup where it’s finally time to drink a little wine and get funky. Typical girl-group background “oohs” flit in and out, with gruff male vocals taking their place in the social commentary of “Money,” all horn stutters and bongo rolls and the Dap-Kings grifting like Depression-era scrabblers.
Jones is capable of heavy emotion without resorting to histrionics, but “Give It Back” has her blowing the roof off with her screams over squealing horns, along with potent lyrical expressions of her feminine power. When she finally ends a doomed relationship in “Window Shopping” Jones is uncomfortable with her power, telling her man “I need you to stop convincing me” of reasons not to break up. It’s a tough decision but emblematic of the rest of the album lyrically: romantic suffering resulting from not receiving emotional reciprocation, culminating in final affirmations of capable independence.