Lee Fields – Emma Jean (2014)

Lee Fields - Emma Jean (2014)
Artist: Lee Fields
Album: Emma Jean
Genre: Retro Soul
Label: Truth & Soul
Released: 2014
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Tracklist:
Slipped Disc
Begin The Beguine
Don’t Be That Way
Running Wild
St. James Infirmary
Yesterday
Sing, Sing, Sing
Woodchopper’s Ball
My Inspiration
Goodbye
A Funeral In New Orleans
When The Saints Go Marching In

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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.

If there’s any downside to longtime consistency, it’s that surprise gives way to reliability, so his new album, Emma Jean, isn’t really a huge revelation. And it doesn’t need to be: after the previous albums Fields did with his band the Expressions, starting with his late ’90s revival and his Brooklyn-borne run on the Desco, Soul Fire, and Truth & Soul labels, it’s simply another notch in a heavily hash-marked belt. But any opportunity to revel in Fields’ voice is a good one, especially when his voice is so rangy. While he was acknowledged at times in the past as a sort of James Brown soundalike, his points of comparison render him more original the wider they’re spread out. The gravelly warmth of Bobby Womack, Otis Redding’s emotive ache, Syl Johnson’s sweet intensity—and, sure, Mr. Dynamite’s raspy authority—are more points of triangulation than direct references, with a nuanced vitality that makes his sixties sound like most artists’ thirties.

With a band that can (and should) get away with releasing purely instrumental editions of their work—which the Expressions did, on 2012’s *Faithful Man—*Fields can really bring it on home. There’s one notable example on Emma Jean, the dawn-of-disco 4/4 conga thump of “All I Need,” that goes on for a bit before it becomes apparent that Fields isn’t coming in anytime soon—and the instrumental melody, a canny blend of stinging guitar and creeping horns, carries nearly as much lively soul-stirring lead-attraction status as the headlining artist does when he finally lets out a few wordless, last-minute moans at the end. The Expressions are a who’s-who of session players and all-stars that’ve helped make up the sprawling, definitive nucleus of Brooklyn soul, but they’re still finding new, appealing routes through it; the countrypolitan twang to their cover of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” and the humid, Afro-Latin War-isms of “In the Woods” are odd little inflections that flavor the familiar approach without pulling it too far out of bounds.
by Nate Patrin

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