Truth & Soul Records
I tend to not tolerate all this retro-hopeful faux-soul shtick. I just can’t get on the train like others – that Charles Bradley goon, for instance; does my head in. White guilt goes a long way toward people feeling there’s some soul when all around them is just shouting. Fortunately Lee Fields & The Expressions has always seemed a more sincere project – a guy that just grafted away and then was sorta wrapped up and part-packaged in line with the Bradleys and Sharon Joneses and such. But what interests me with Fields is the way he explores outside and around the hackneyed, obvious choices – pulling it all back in to nestle as part of his sound.
Here, with Emma Jean, his latest, the best, er expression of Fields’ commitment to his craft and sound is in the way he tackles, and reshapes, J.J. Cale’s Magnolia. The sort of gorgeous song you’d never want to fuck up – or fuck with – he takes it out for a spin and loans some of that Bobby Womack-when-we-went-a-bit-country to the sound; part of Fields’ paint-box already.
If Emma Jean has any huge issues it’s that – ultimately – it’s all a little too safe and same-sounding. But the band knows how to rise and fall, is sympathetic and Fields’ voice – almost miraculously – just continues on. As if he hasn’t aged, as if he never will. The middle of the album bumbles along with one too many love-gone-wrong/forlorn foible-filled fables. But you don’t reach to turn off the screech – as has always been the case with me and Mr. Bradley.