4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Back in 1997, Rhino issued a mammoth collection of soul hits and rarities titled Beg, Scream and Shout!
Along with many ’60s highlights, they, unfortunately, missed including Lee Fields, who released his first single in 1969. Fields however remains active, promoting the qualities of that box’s descriptive title.
We’ll give the usually fine compilers at Rhino a break for omitting Fields since most of his early work was in the ’70s. Even though he took time off in the ’80s, the singer’s career has been resurrected in the last few decades. He can still beg, scream and shout with the same passion and searing attack as the biggest stars of the ’60s.
The soul man’s renaissance picked up momentum with My World (2009). He has worked steadily since, churning out authentic, unvarnished retro-influenced soul albums for a variety of mostly under-the-radar labels, as well as tirelessly touring to support them. Now in his early 70s, he is in full swing, and Sentimental Fool, surprisingly his debut for the Daptone label (he recorded some early singles for them), is among his finest recordings.
Producer Bosco Mann (aka Gabriel Roth), who as a 21-year-old fledging producer/songwriter helmed Fields’ 1996 single, returns on his first full Daptone collection. Not only does Mann pen most of these tracks, but he pulls out the production stops. A horn section, backing singers, and instrumentation that includes everything from vibraphone (credited to two players), bass harmonica, and timpani to tubular bells (really) enhance the Daptone studio crew. While this could easily get overcrowded and bloated, Mann keeps the focus on Fields’ emotional, often searing vocals.
It’s a deep well of soul, influenced more by Otis Redding than James Brown, the latter Fields’ initial inspiration. The gritty singer pushes songs like the opening love ballad “Forever” and the jazz/funk inflected “Two Jobs” (where his roars of “c’mon baby” and “keep on doin’ it” reflect the Isley Brothers’ “Work to Do” concept), into the red, where they stay.
None of the dozen tracks exceed four minutes. Producer Mann keeps them tight and concise, adding horns only to emphasize lyrics and never going overboard. On the rugged R&B of “Your Face Before My Eyes,” Fields pleads “You’re driving me crazy” punching the intensity in a tune that doesn’t even break two minutes. The sound is stripped down to a slow gospel, organ-led approach for the closing “Extraordinary Man,” which gradually bolsters the instrumentation and then reverts back to the keyboard that started it.
No Pro-Tools, no hip-hop, no synths or programmed beats, this is as organic, honest, and powerful as soul gets. Between Roth’s guidance and Lee Fields’ riveting performance, this is a contemporary/retro-tinged classic, one that any lover of the genre will find timeless and inspirational.
Photo Credit: Gustavo Olivares / Big Hassle