At a time when many new artists are trying to emulate the soul and swagger of the 1960s, Lee Fields just has to record a new record. This authenticity is on full blast, once again, with Emma Jean, the new offering from Lee Fields and The Expressions on Brooklyn’s own Truth & Soul Records.
Having been on the road touring for the better part of the last decade, it’s evident that Lee Fields has hit an elevated stride with this album. There’s a sharper wisdom in the songwriting – from the having loved, lost, and learned vibe of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” backed by crooning guitar and wailing horns, to the sophisticated arrangements and studio acumen that’s pared with Lee’s straightforward sincerity in “Just Can’t Win.” And then there’s “Magnolia,” a cover of a JJ Cale song that embodies the late, great American singer-songwriter and the Tulsa Sound he helped create, that’s refreshed with the Lee Fields approach.
Like past releases from this matchless pairing of Fields’ warm-and-raw growl and The Expressions’ switched-on and sharp musicianship, Emma Jean takes soul music in a familiar, but updated, direction. Mixed and partially recorded at Dan Auerbach’s Nashville studio-country soul and bluesy rock are immediately noticeable. It brings a different kind of strut to Emma Jean, but Fields-born and raised in North Carolina-is right at home with the Southern soul sound. In fact, it feels like a natural progression; an organic, refreshingly pure next step.
You’d be forgiven a few years ago if you heard a Lee Fields song and thought it was somebody else: O.V. Wright, The Delfonics, or of course James Brown. But now, with the release of Emma Jean, there is no mistaking a Lee Fields track. A distinct soulful sound and a grown style has been forged between him and The Expressions. His 45 years of recording this music, 5 years deep now with Truth & Soul something has clarified. “He’s 65 years old,” says Leon Michels, co-owner of Truth & Soul and the man with the production credit on Emma Jean. “he’s so focused, and has been working non-stop -he’s singing the best he ever has.” Emma Jean shows this progression and may prove that Fields, The Expressions, and Truth & Soul may be no longer interested in being contemporary soul music royalty. Instead, they seem more motivated to push this music in new directions and explore it’s next steps.