Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, "I Learned the Hard Way"

3.5

Since 2002, powerhouse singer Sharon Jones and her eight-piece backing band the Dap-Kings have been finding ways to bring old-school soul music into a contemporary setting. The group's latest album, "I Learned the Hard Way," is a more traditional take on Motown that thrives on the simplicity of its midtempo song structures. Throughout 12 songs and a little less than 40 minutes, the 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." Jones remains a vivacious vocal force, but some of her best moments come as an intimate storyteller. "I'm a better woman than I have been/'Cause I don't think about way back when," she confidently croons over electric guitar and hand claps on "Better Things," a song that captures the album's lighthearted atmosphere. "I Learned the Hard Way" finds an eminent R&B band playing within its comfort zone and Jones continuing to distinguish herself as a multilayered frontwoman. --Jason Lipshutz