Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, I Learned The Hard Way, (2010 Daptone Records), by Adam

Posted: August 19, 2010 by Adam in Album Reviews
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Blue Air is back after its unofficial summer long break, basically we were all reluctant to write anything and stay indoors while there is the possibility of seeing sunlight! Especially those of us who live in Manchester which is only slightly dryer than Atlantis.
I Learned The Hard Way is the most recent album from Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and was released this year in April, although you would be forgiven for not knowing this as their style is never going to get much commercial airplay. However after hearing ‘Inspiration Information’ on the ‘Dark is the Night’ compilation album last year I was keen to hear more from Ms Jones especially as this is a type of music I have very little knowledge of.
For backgrounds sake The Dap-Kings (and Sharon Jones) were originally the house band at The Boite in Barcelona, where they recorded and released ‘Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ on their own label Daptone Records in 2002. Touring relentlessly the success of the album led to commercial success with tracks being used in several advertising campaigns. The Dap-Kings also took advantage of several opportunities to collaborate with other artists on the back of the albums success. Most notably (and kind of unsurprisingly) they featured on the Mark ‘More Trumpets Please’ Ronson produced ‘Back to Black’ album with Amy Winehouse and on Ronson’s own album ‘Version’. Jones and the Dap-Kings have also worked with Rufus Wainright, Phish and the Buble.
There are obvious comparisons to make between Jones and other funk/soul/jazz legends such as Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. In fact the band have been heralded as the spearhead of a movement to recreate the original jazz/soul styling of the 60s and 70s, but few have had the success of the SJ&DK. In fact there are very few of these ‘retro’ acts as committed as the Dap-Kings and Sharon Jones. Few can fill notes with as much meaning and power as Jones. One of the best examples of this however is not on the album. For a great example look for the bands cover of ‘This Land is Your Land’, originally by Woody Guthrie, on the ‘Naturally’ album. The song brings together the best of the band, turning what was originally a country/folk classic which inspired the likes of Bob Dylan into a seriously funky song which would easily get top billing any soul album.
Jones and the Dap-Kings bring this skill and depth to all of the songs on ‘I Learned the Hard Way’ and the album has very few tracks which don’t demonstrate this to good effect. Album opener ‘The Game Gets Old’ has all the drama of a James Bond theme tune especially those by Shirley ‘Goldfingaaaaaar’ Bassey. In fact I’ll say it now, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are my bet to do the next Bond theme, whatever ridiculous title they give it! Album highlights include ‘Better Things To Do’, ‘Mama Don’t Like My Man’ and ‘I’ll Still Be True’. Special mention should be given to instrumental track ‘The Reason’ which is a great example of the Dap-Kings native sound. Sometimes the album does feel like it is just going through the motions but individually all the songs are fantastic.
The Game Gets Old– Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
For me this was a fantastic end of summer album, clichéd I know but who cares!

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