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Apr. 3 2010 - 8:04 am | 87 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

From Rikers Island To Backing Michael Buble — Sharon Jones’ New Album Says It: ‘I Learned The Hard Way’

INDIO, CA - APRIL 25:  Sharon Jones of Sharon ...

Ms. Jones in action. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It takes a soul of steel to work, as Sharon Jones did for 16 months, as a corrections officer on Rikers Island. Being told she was too dark-skinned and too fat to make it in the music industry might have helped.

If you love soul music, you need to know about her; her new album, “I Learned the Hard Way” will be released April 6. These days, she’s been backing Phish, Lou Reed, Michael Buble and Booker T.

From New York magazine:

After three decades of near obscurity, Jones is in demand; she and Brooklyn soul curators the Dap-Kings will release their fourth album, I Learned the Hard Way, on April 6. In recent years, she’s sung with Lou Reed in the stage version of Berlin and with Phish for their re-creation of Exile on Main St.; she duetted with Michael Bublé on Saturday Night Live and sings a funkified version of “This Land Is Your Land” in the opening credits of Up in the Air. “I feel like I asked God, and it took me a while,” says Jones. “So instead of ‘Why?’ I say, ‘Thank you.’ ”

Her belated acclaim is one of pop’s unlikeliest second acts, and she barely had a first. Jones was born in Georgia but grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where her mother moved her six children after leaving an abusive spouse. After graduating from Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School, Jones—resplendent in an Afro and bell-bottoms—formed a funky party band called Inner Spectrum. But she had little interest in what followed: disco, crossover pop, then rap. Defeated after her aborted eighties audition, she spent a dozen years in a wedding band. She also did a sixteen-month stint as a guard on Rikers Island, where one night inmates demanded she sing “Greatest Love of All” before lockdown.

In the early nineties…she was also flirting with cocaine, struggling with difficult boyfriends, and bunking with family members when she was financially strapped. To this day, she lives with her mother in a project in Far Rockaway that she won’t even let her manager see.

Writes Jim Fusilli in The Wall Street Journal:

Out next week, “I Learned the Hard Way” (Daptone) features the Dap-Kings laying down a solid foundation under Ms. Jones, who as a vocalist is somehow defiant yet vulnerable. To be sure, Gabriel Roth’s arrangements and production celebrate classic soul recordings, but to call “I Learned the Hard Way” retro is to miss the point: This is the kind of American music whose commercial fortunes may ebb and flow, but as an art form it is everlasting. “There ain’t nothing retro about me,” Ms. Jones told me. “We’re not hopping on anybody’s band wagon.”

The Dap-Kings comprise a three-piece horn section with a bone-rattling baritone sax, two guitars, Mr. Roth’s bass, drums and Ms. Jones—a tiny dynamo with a big voice and bigger stage presence. In concert, they come out and hit hard from the opening note of a soul revue hosted by their guitarist Binky Griptite. On disc, the Dap-Kings are wall-to-wall soul, with abundant nods to their predecessors. But they’re well aware it’s no longer the ’60s music scene. If it were, and radio played soul and R&B with the joy and frequency it once did, two songs on the new album—”She Ain’t a Child No More” and “Better Things”—would be hit singles.


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  1. collapse expand

    Hey, this sounds good. I particularly liked the WSJ music critic’s description. That’s a sentence I never expected to form.

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