Lee Fields & the Expressions: Emma Jean

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lee-fields-and-the-expressions

Lee Fields & the Expressions
Emma 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.

Fields and his Expressions big band have been on the comeback trail since 2009’s My World, but made a bigger splash with 2012’s terrific Faithful Man, as solid a classic soul styled album as has been released by any artist in the past decade. Emma Jean, his follow-up, is nearly as great. The same parts are in place;sharply often intricately arranged horn parts, gospel call and response female backing vocals, a band that supports and never overplays and of course Fields’ tough, tender and pleading voice. Sure, there’s plenty of James Brown influence, but Wilson Pickett, Stax and Muscle Shoals R&B is as much a part of his sound. There’s also room for chimes and churchy organ in ballads such as the captivating “Paralyzed” and a melancholy, sensual, bittersweet cover of J.J. Cale’s lovely “Magnolia,” surely the finest version of this song since Poco gave it a whirl in the early 70s. His take on Leon Russell’s “Out in the Woods” is another inspired choice as Fields takes the song out of the swamp and down to church.

Fields and his band are spirited and energetic even on the occasional weaker track, and there aren’t many of those. When he and the group explode on the grinding “Talk to Somebody” where the horns, piano, and rhythm section urge him to a riveting, testifying performance, you’ll think you pulled out an old Solomon Burke CD by mistake. But this is more than just a stroll down memory lane since the emotions and lost love laments remain timeless, as does the sound of a man who understands his musical strengths and plays to them with class, authority and soul searching intensity.

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