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.

New York — The Nation's New(est) Laughingstock

New York State Governor David Paterson opening...
Good riddance! Image via Wikipedia

New York — for millions, for centuries — has marked the spot where the ambitious, talented, driven best show up to compete for whatever they think they can win.

My mother was born in New York City and married there before moving to Canada, where I was born. I first visited the city, to see her grandmother, as a young teen, then in my early 20s, twice. Since high school, I dreamed of coming to New York to compete in journalism, and chose to move to the state in 1989, just in time for the worst recession ever in journalism (only the first of three, since then, this one far worse).

The state has become so ugly and dysfunctional, so embarrassingly stupid and risible, it begs the imagination, even as we pay more and more and more taxes to the fools sitting in Albany.

The state, and our moronic, lying, directionless lame-duck governor, David Paterson, who decided he won’t (thank God) run for re-election after all, has become a joke. So has, even more so, Senator Charles Rangel for his ethical lapses.

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Paterson’s troubles have been catnip for “Saturday Night Live,” but the state’s voters are laughing to keep from crying. New York’s budget deficit is an estimated $8.2 billion, due in no small part to state spending that has risen by nearly 70%, or $35 billion, over the past decade. The recent financial crisis has exposed the state’s overreliance on tax revenue from Wall Street.

Mr. Paterson has promised several times to stop this, only to give in to the legislature and tax and spend again. He’ll now be the lamest of lame ducks, and if he wanted to do the public at least one good turn he’d resign early and let the state be run through next year by his Lieutenant Governor, Richard Ravitch, who is at least competent.

This mess is all part of the culture of Albany, arguably the most corrupt legislature on Earth. Last June, the state government was paralyzed for more than a month when Democratic Senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate joined the Republican caucus, making it unclear which party was in control. Eventually, both men returned to the Democratic side of the aisle.

Mr. Espada would later be investigated for not living in his district and funneling state money to health clinics that he operates. Mr. Monserrate was later convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. Two weeks ago the Senate voted 53-8 to expel Mr. Monserrate over his conviction, which reminds us in reverse of Groucho Marx’s famous line about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him. You know you’re special when even the Albany legislature won’t have you, though Mr. Espada did vote to keep Mr. Monserrate around, perhaps to deflect investigator attention.

Meanwhile, this sense of entitlement also seems to extend to New York’s Congressional delegation. Democrat Charles Rangel of Manhattan was admonished yesterday by the House ethics committee for taking junkets to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 that his staff knew were financed by corporations. The committee said staff aides tried to tell him three times about the corporate sponsors.

As New Yorker writer E.B. White once said:

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill them, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”

There isn’t enough luck in the world right now for many New Yorkers.

The luckiest thing many of us might now picture is a moving truck in our driveway. But heading to where?