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Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings I Learned the Hard Way

Just as Brooklyn soul-revival impresarios Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' live show has progressed from raw funk to Stax-style revue, their recordings have been a process of settling into the ensemble's talent. I Learned the Hard Way is easily the group's best effort yet, an album of classic songwriting and sharp musicianship belying its own complexity. From near-orchestral arrangements ("The Game Gets Old") to playful studio ease (recession anthem "Money"), this is a disc even Isaac Hayes would covet. But the star is undeniably Jones, who attains a rare level of confidence as she coos, belts, and soothes without cliché or crutch. Jones' voice is an instrument shaped by age, not youth, and Hard Way proves she's just hitting her stride.

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