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Big brass heralds the triumphant return of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings on opener "The Game Gets Old." The sultry, soulful Jones laments, "So many times I've played the game of love/ But it always ends in vain/ I'm back in the ring with my boxing gloves/ So I'm going to feel some pain."

"The Game Gets Old" is the best of the bunch, an instant soul classic for its harmonious horn arrangements, crisp drumming, tinkling chimes, and old-school backup vocals — "Yeah-ehh! Whoo-hoo-ooh!" "Hahhh!"

Recorded and produced by Bosco Mann (aka Gabriel Roth, the group's bassist) on an Ampex eight-track tape machine, the record steams with warmth. Its sound is reminiscent of the albums created at Muscle Shoals, Motown, and Stax.

Studio laughter and chatter sets the laidback tone for "Better Things." A funky guitar line, mixed to the right, drives the vamp, while horn punches and handclaps keep the beat. Like a mantra, Jones repeats, "I've got better things to do than remember you."

"Ill Still Be True" swings like Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." The aptly titled instrumental "The Reason" allows the band to do all the talking. The octet lays down a groovy, horn heavy, 2:15 hot-buttered reminder that I Learned The Hard Way is a group effort.

"Mamma Don't Like My Man" closes the session. It's a bare-bones showcase for Jones's fine pipes and female backup singers. Accompanied only by a single guitar, foot stomps, and handclaps, Jones and company do what the Ronnettes, the Shirelles, and Supremes had done before, sing their hearts out.

  • Album: I Learned the Hard Way (2010)
  • Artist: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
  • Label: Daptone Records
  • Songs: 1. The Game Gets Old 2. I Learned the Hard Way 3. Better Things 4. Give It Back 5. Money 6. The Reason 7. Window Shopping 8. She Ain't a Child No More 9. I'll Still Be True 10. Without a Heart 11. If You Call 12. Mama Don't Like My Man
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