SHARON JONES & THE DAP KINGS: I Learned The Hard Way – 2010 – Album review

Rating: ★★★★☆

Over the best part of the last decade the combination of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings has been massively influential in underground funk circles. In fact they are probably the most widely respected act on the scene – with good reason, indeed, if creating the sound of soul/ funk authenticity were a competition, this lot would effortlessly wipe the floor with every rival, every single time. No doubt this is partly to do with their use of eight-track analogue recording using an Ampex tape machine but also a consequence of Jones’ voice and the musicianship of the Dap Kings themselves. But then again, it’s not a competition and so we have to address the fact that like it’s predecessor this LP lacks a big dancefloor banger of the kind that their rivals have been providing. This isn’t to say there aren’t big tunes on here – for example both Money (which finds Jones pondering her inability to hang on to any bucks in her best soulful growl and is the closest thing to a dancefloor single on here) and I’ll Still Be True offer big brassy, funky soul but the horns and vox take priority over the breaks even on these.
Elsewhere Better Things To Do offers a sweetly mellow groove though the emphasis is on the chill rather than the ill. Talking of sweetly mellow grooves – the summery soul vibe on The Reason sees the Dap Kings taking a front seat for once with this instrumental at the halfway point. Without A Heart brings the northern soul (and why not – every other deep funk band has been there recently) while Mama Don’t Like My Man plunders an early Motown vibe. The remainder is much the same – more of the soul – less of the funk – lots of lamenting about blokes who ‘window shop’ (Window Shopping), ‘learning the hard way’ about blokes (I Learned The Hard Way) – and stressing about whether a bloke is going to call or not – If You Call. But then again – why not? They’re all traditional and perfectly serviceable soul-themes.
Musically this has far more in common with last LP 100 Days, 100 Nights than the blazing funk of first LP or even the excellent well-balanced variety of second LP Naturally which I still maintain is their finest hour and ought to have been the one that broke them into mainstream consciousness. Since even the Guardian name checks them these days I think it’s safe to assume that mainstream recognition has now been achieved and frankly no-one deserves it more. It does occur to me though that an end to all that ‘struggling musician’ lifestyle might leave Jones short of lyrical material – although thinking about it – her love life does sound pretty catastrophic, so maybe not. Anyway – enough about that – as long as you remember that this (like its immediate predecessor) is one for late-night driving, and post-dinner drinks rather than late-night drinking and post-pub kicks, you’ll be into it. Nice to see them offering a mp3 download code with the LP too…
(Out now on Daptone Records)

Listen to Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – I Learned The Hard Way

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Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Myspace


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