I Learned the Hard Way
I want Quentin Tarantino to make a movie about Sharon Jones. She’s got the storyline: in the 1970’s a young singer, fresh from her southern gospel singing background, new to the big northern city, lands jobs backing up star soul artists on countless recordings. She never catches a break and takes a job as a corrections officer at Riker’s Prison, then as an armored car guard. You’ve got a portrait of a tough lady who missed her calling – until she is discovered by a bunch of young Brookylnites with a passion for retro soul music. Since teaming up with The Daptone, the house band for Daptone Records, Sharon Jones finally has become a star. Mr. Tarantino, you’ve already got a soundtrack and it’s a doozey.
I Learned the Hard Way is the band’s second full-length release following on the heals of 2008’s 100 Days 100 Nights. Where as their former album dipped heavily into the soul of the 1970’s, The Hard Way offers more of late 1960’s influences. The Daptones capture the horn and string charts of those heady days, they throw in the occasional flute and triangle highlights, and the backing vocals are spot on. The band sings a bit more on this release, chiming in like the Pips behind Gladys Knight, as on “She Ain’t a Child No More." Sharon Jones revels in the lyrics, making it clear that she isn’t mimicking anything when she rips into songs about disappointment and heartache.
Songwriting duties are shared among band members. Bosco Mann, the main Mr. Daptone, pens 6 of the cuts, including the disco-based title track and the slow burning “Money.” Homer Steinweiss only contributes one song but it’s the joyous, “finally over you” anthem “Better Things.” It’s a fine example of how well this band captures the nuance of old soul, whether it’s a catchy piano line, a floating flute line, or twangy reverb-driven guitar. The album also features talking intros, like Jones’ discourse on the economy on “Money.” The same goes for “Window Shopping” as Jones tells you about her cheating man. There’s a lot of that heartbreak on the disc and Jones nails it. The woman knows how to flatten you with her powerful interpretations of survival and pain.
The band step out in front for the instrumental “The Reason,” a track that features horns, sax, and xylophone. If you hadn’t noticed before just how good these musicians are this song will drive home that point. As on all Daptone Record releases, the instruments and recording equipment is vintage 1960’s and 70’s. The recreation of the era is truly remarkable. It’s also a reminder of how much fun this music was – and is again. The album wraps with a do wop number called “Mama Don’t Like My Man.” If features Jones accompanied by only a guitar and backing vocals and it highlights what a talented singer Sharon Jones really is. Mr. Tarentino, Ms. Jones is ready for her close-up.