Release Date: Jun 3, 2014
Record label: Truth & Soul
Genre(s): Electronic, R&B, Soul, Retro-Soul, Deep Funk Revival
Today’s retro-soul singers are the delta bluesmen of the 1950s and 1960s, having plied their trade for years, toiling in anonymity until a crop of new, hip young people catch on and decide to make them their own, recognizing the greatness that has been there all along and elevating their commercial and critical status to a level never before dreamed. And much like with the blues and folk revival of the late 1950s/early 1960s, it’s the younger generation of listeners seeking authenticity in their music, looking back to the previous generation for inspiration from performers who harken back to an earlier time when music was seemingly less complicated, more in touch with its roots and therefore ultimately truer to itself. Lee Fields, a soul performer who’s been at it since at least the mid-1970s, has, along with Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley over on the Daptone label, seen a bit of a career renaissance in recent years as younger, predominantly white audiences clamor for relics from bygone eras, undiscovered gems still kicking around the scene and doing their best to realize what most would have long ago deemed an impossible dream.
Though he's been recording intermittently since 1969, the gritty, James Brown-inspired sound of soul man Lee Fields has undergone a bit of an evolution since he released My World in 2009 and 2012's equally fine Faithful Man. Part of that has to do with the fit he has with the Expressions, his much younger backing band that are among the brightest units on the retro-soul scene. They not only back the singer, but push him into exploring the full range of his voice, exploring colors he hasn't before as he declares, pleads, testifies, and cajoles.
Lee Fields & the ExpressionsEmma Jean(Truth & Soul)4 out of 5 stars There are plenty, well a dedicated and talented bunch, of youngsters both black and white trying to replicate the tough, gospel infused soul of the 60s and early (pre-disco) 70s. But as true to form as they try to get, there’s nothing like the real thing. Thankfully the success of Sharon Jones and the Dap Tone label has made it possible for old school journeymen like Charles Bradley and Lee Fields to have unexpectedly popular second acts in the 00s.
He may not be as well known as his contemporaries, but being underrated hasn’t affected Lee Fields’s legacy. In over 45 years of making music, the soul veteran has fluently melded funk, blues and R & B. His latest effort, Emma Jean, builds on the explorational acclaim of his past two well-received records. With a booming yet unshakeable voice that hasn’t aged a bit, Fields and his terrific backing band’s sharply-focused instrumentation—including the bold use of horns—are a throwback to a time when singers were laidback, showcasing their swagger and confidence by bearing their souls through deeply personal songs.
Lee Fields isn't really a throwback—he's always been singing, even when nobody was listening. There's both an agelessness and a versatility to his soulful inflections that makes his voice too nebulous to evoke anything specific enough that would scan as direct nostalgia. So once you get rid of any feeling that you might be listening to something reminiscent of another time—admittedly, a feeling fueled by the fact that the golden era of Southern R&B is when he first built his chops—it's replaced by the impact of hearing a lifer professional doing his thing at what seems like a continuous peak.