Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – I Learned the Hard Way

Daptone Records

Even before James Brown threw off his last cape Sharon Jones had taken up his mantle to become the hardest working woman in show business. From her debut album to live performances soaked in sweat and tears she was a woman out to prove herself worthy of the title. Yet on I Learned the Hard Way Jones and the Dap Kings demonstrate the cool confidence of a prize fighter no longer worried about the next fight.

Despite a more soul-oriented direction Jones doesn’t demand attention the same way she did on previous albums. For the first time she’s supported by female back-up singers rather than commanding responses from her band. On tracks like “Give it Back” and the stripped down “Mama Don’t Like My Man” she sounds surprisingly reserved. She chooses her moments waiting to unleash the atomic power of her voice on songs like the James Brown-inspired “If You Call.” Yet at all times her voice embodies an authenticity and history born in the midst of a “Hallelujah” shouted in a ’50s-era Georgian church. Jones doesn’t need to prove she’s in the same league as other soul legends like Lyn Collins and Marva Whitney; you can hear on I Learned the Hard Way that she knows she just is .