Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings turn past into present on 'I Learned the Hard Way'

There was a novelty factor to the first couple albums by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Brooklyn soul band that sounded like it fell through a time warp from a late-’60s Motown session? Far out!

With the release today of the band’s fourth record, “I Learned the Hard Way” (Daptone), the novelty has worn off, which is no problem when what remains is another collection of electrifying soul jams. (Download the title track here in exchange for your e-mail address.) It’s hard to think of a performer who gives as much on stage as Jones does (seeing her at SXSW was a festival highlight), and though no album can truly capture the experience of seeing her thrown down live, this one comes as close as possible.

Enveloped by deep, round bass, scratchy funk guitars and blaring horns courtesy of one of the best bands anywhere, Jones sings in a robust, throaty voice that sounds as if she’s living every note of every song in real time. It’s particularly powerful when she dials in wringing emotion on “Money,” and ruefully recounts on the title track how she was blind to the misdeeds of a faithless lover.

Jones is a force of nature on the microphone, and these 12 songs give her every chance to prove it. Just as important as her charisma and conviction, though, is the way the album sounds. It’s easy enough to call “I Learned the Hard Way” a throwback album, but that’s not quite right. Although these songs have a vintage feel to them, Jones and the Dap-Kings treat them as though they’re completely up to date — it’s not returning to the past so much as picking up where 1968 left off and bringing it fully into the present, hooks, horns and all.

— Text and photo by Eric R. Danton

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