Whatever happened to that Motown sound? Have you ever asked yourself why they don’t make music like they did in the 60s and 70s? Well stop asking yourself, because they do. Or at least Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings do.
“I Learned The Hard Way,” the Brooklyn-based funk and soul revivalist band’s fourth album takes you back to the golden age of soul music. It sounds like nothing from this decade. Each of the twelve tracks could have been recorded with the Funk Brothers in the studio, Smokey Robinson in the control room and the Jackson 5 next door.
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings are true revivalists. They produce their music with analogue equipment instead of modern digital techniques. They even stay away from instruments developed after the mid-70s. Contemporary R&B has a tendency to be overproduced. Songs with decent enough vocals get cluttered with drum machines and other inorganic sounds, until they resemble something George Lucas digitally remastered. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings keep it real, satisfying all purists.
Every song on “I Learned The Hard Way” is a well-crafted piece of old-school pop music. The melodies stick in your head long after you’ve stopped listening. The rhythms are made to groove to, whatever grooving it is that you like to do. The lyrics address love, loss and being broke in a way only the soul songsters of the 60s and 70s knew. Most importantly, The Dap-Kings understand that horns make everything better. Trumpets and trombones dramatically pierce the negative space between verses.
The group captures the multiple dimensions of the soul music experience. They play upbeat, hopeful tracks like “Better Things” and darker pieces like “She Ain’t a Child No More.” The most interesting song on the album is “Window Shopping,” in which a woman waits for her man to settle down. “You keep window shopping. You browse around but don’t intend to buy.”
“I Learned The Hard Way” is a nearly flawless album. The only glaring fault you might find is that it lacks relevance. It doesn’t offer anything new to the music scene. Rather, it looks back at a time where pop music didn’t, almost by default, suck. There isn’t, unfortunately, a huge market for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. They’ve released four albums without attracting too much attention. But that doesn’t stop them from jamming like it’s 1968.
So if you love oldies radio but wish they played music that wasn’t made before you were born, check out Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. And if that isn’t incentive enough, “I Learned The Hard Way” will make sure you have no reason to listen to Amy Winehouse.