Since so few acts in the new millennium attempt the old-school soul that's the specialty of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, it may be easy to assume that they're heralded simply because of their rarity: although they certainly sound like plenty of acts from back then, they're praised because nobody else sounds like them now, something that's all well and good but doesn't quite suggest how good the group really is. I Learned the Hard Way, their fourth album, goes a long way in illustrating that they're very, very good, holding their own with all the `60s Southern and Northern soul they hold so dear. In fact, the striking thing about the album is that contrary to their deep soul rep, Jones & the Dap Kings spend just as much time riding smooth easy grooves as they do pouring out some sweat: despite its tough title, "I Learned the Hard Way" breezes with the cool assurance of Curtis Mayfield's Windy City and the instrumental "The Reason" shimmers like the sound of Philadelphia circa 1969. A large part of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings charm is that they mix up these regional styles, blending them into a `60s soul fantasia, but they also favor recordings that sound like the '60s: there's air and grit within the grooves of I Learned the Hard Way that gives it an authentic kick. Of course, all this would be surface charm if the group didn't deliver songs, and they do -- songs that swagger and stir the soul, fitting within tradition without being beholden to it, songs that prove that Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the real deal. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Rolling Stone (p.64) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he details are period-perfect: Every guitar scratch and brass blast sounds like it was teleported straight from 1965 or 1972."
Spin (p.87) - "[The Dap-Kings] tackle the laid-back instrumental groove of 'The Reason' with horns blazing."
Entertainment Weekly (p.69) - "[P]ure joy, even when heartbreak sends her voice digging deep." -- Grade: A-
Living Blues (p.35) - "I LEARNED THE HARD WAY jumps off in dramatic fashion, ten seconds of cinematic flair and brass fanfare as the Dap-Kings roll out a red carpet entrance for Sharon Jones, the undisputed queen of modern soul."
Billboard (p.32) - "[T]he Dap-Kings keep their arrangements brisk and enjoyable on tracks like the funky opener 'The Game Gets old' and doo-wop standout 'Give It Back.'"
Mojo (Publisher) (p.102) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Gabriel Roth's production gives Jones and the band a sizzling live presence throughout....Jones is in tremendous voice from start to finish."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.55) - Ranked #23 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2010" -- "Jones' finest yet....She convinced on tales of hardship that rivaled Etta James's."
Paste (magazine) (p.68) - "Jones and the Dap-Kings make the kind of music that moves them, and their feverish passion is contagious....This is Jones and the Dap-Kings' moment."
Pitchfork (Website) - "'Better Things' in particular is incredible, a brilliant kiss-off in which Jones reveals layers of anguish beneath her anger, while the band supports her with a heavy Muscle Shoals-style groove."
Uncut (magazine) (p.92) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "'Give It Back' is a nice Brill Building pastiche....[With] effective arrangements..."