The Game Gets Old

Sharon Jones updates her sound—this time to keep up with the 1970s


Before too long, Sharon Jones will make a disco record.

The evidence is mounting, as each new release from the retro soul singer follows a chronological path of studio production. Her first, Dap Dippin’, captured James Brown’s early, raw funk (1963); her second album, Naturally, smoothed out the long vamps and hip-bumps with classic Motown-style songwriting (1965); 100 Days, 100 Nights came during the tumult of a country at war and a dying faith in government (1967), and now, in 2010, it’s the early ’70s all over again. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ new album, I Learned the Hard Way, released this week, boasts a full brass orchestra, lush strings and female backup vocals, all drenched in that huge, velvet studio production of the Nixon era.

While Jones here is less tortured than on previous outings, her spirit of reclamation is still strong. You, the listener, have done her wrong, and she, Miss Jones, is getting over it in her own damn way. Even on the lighthearted “Better Things,” Jones sings over party chatter and playful trumpets—she obviously has better things to do than spend time with you, and better ways to spend her money. (“Money,” a venomous scorcher, could be our current depression’s response anthem to the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money.”)

Jones’ backstory is a perfect tale of revival. She recorded a handful of singles in the ’60s, disappeared, worked as a prison guard on Rikers Island and was finally cajoled back into the studio by Daptone Records executives, who both capture the vintage sound of her albums behind the studio boards and play in her band. Live and onstage, they provide an anchor to Jones’ nonstop passion and patter, accentuating each twist of the waist with authentic flourishes from the golden era. The Dap-Kings know what they’re doing. Sharon Jones knows what she’s doing. If they do, in fact, make a disco record together, it’s gonna rule.