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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (Daptone)

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Something a little different is definitely happening on album No. 4 by Daptone Records flagship act Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. More overtly pop-soul than the songs on previous records, the 12 tracks here tilt more toward the light touch of Motown soul and the orchestral feel of classic Philadelphia soul than the largely Memphis-laced grooves of before. The changes are subtle but significant.

The opening track, "The Game Gets Old," sets the tone with a big production, including strings, lots of horns and much more prominent backup vocals than on previous records. Ditto "I Learned the Hard Way," "Better Things," "Window Shopping" and others, all songs with strings and backup vocals augmented by production touches like timpani, glockenspiel and vibraphone.

Is the new approach a good thing? The over-all sound of the record is big on top but sounds somewhat thin in the middle and bottom, especially with the drums.

However, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Sharon Jones, Bosco Mann and the rest of the Daptone Records crew have probably done more to bring '60s-influenced soul, funk and R&B into the 21st century than anyone else. Time will tell where this fits into the Sharon Jones canon, but for now, it's another high-quality release from one of modern music's most thrilling and relevant acts.

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