Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: I LEARNED THE HARD WAY


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Since their first album in 2002, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings have resuscitated funk and soul to their original forms. The band uses specialized recording equipment, art design and costuming to holistically capture the feel of the '60s and '70s. And yet ironically, this retro appeal is refreshing in a time of hip-hop permutations, vocoders and 808s, as with their latest album, I Learned the Hard Way.

But a potential problem lies with Jones's throwback approach. Because she is emulating a fondly remembered aesthetic from a golden era, her music seems to be protected from scrutiny.

It is difficult to separate what she's trying to do, which is revive an extinct sound, from the end-product she puts out. She achieves the former astonishingly well. But just because Jones nails the part, does that automatically make her music truly good?

I Learned the Hard Way is Jones's fourth album, which settles in between the grittier funk of Naturally and cleaner sound of 100 Days, 100 Nights. But the album halts in mediocrity. It starts off strongly with tracks like "Better Things," but when she proposes, "I got a new walk, I got a new talk," one has to wonder if she's fooling herself. I Learned the Hard Way recycles sounds from her two previous albums into one amalgam, and midway through Jones loses momentum with softer, doo-wop grooves.

Here are some other questions for Sharon Jones fans to mull over: Why listen to her when one can listen to the real thing? In some ways, isn't she an impostor? Does her music have to exceed what has preceded her in order for it to be worthwhile?

In making a claim for authenticity, Jones inevitably places herself in a position to be compared to the legends. Understandably this is her shtick. But a modern take on vintage music does not always make it legitimate.

Contact Justin Bolois at [email protected]

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