It’s inevitable that music genres evolve and change. Jazz started as dance music and by the late 60s, most hip jazzbos were listening to something more akin to Morton Feldman than Louie Armstrong. Hey, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. But one of the great things about this evolution is that those who develop affection for older styles of music can stick to the artists they like, potentially extending the careers of artists who stick to their guns for decades. Dizzy Gillespie was playing 50s style funky be-bop well into his 70s. Those who had converted to post-Coltrane avant had Artie Shepp, Albert Ayler and the like—and folks who preferred the older stuff could stick to their Charlie Parker and Monk records. Everybody wins, right? Well, we’re seeing a new development in the soul genre that’s similar to the late 60s jazz schism.
Modern day soul music has evolved more than almost any genre in the last 40 years. Influences like hip hop, pop and techno have slowly crept into the sound of modern-day soul music to the point that when an R&B artist slips in some classic reference points, it’s a big deal. The most popular songs on today’s R&B chart has much more in common with Carl Cox’s 80s techno than Marvin Gaye. Though this electronic soul dominates today’s charts and awards shows, there is definitely still an audience for more classic soul music and artists. One of my favorite outcomes from the new classic-leaning R&B audience is the emergence of older, less well-known artists, who have been slugging it out on the club circuit for years—now emerging to a group of young, and hip soul lovers looking for the “real deal.” Artists such as Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley have found new career life by playing the classic soul and funk from the 60s and 70s and are filling up clubs and theaters.
Lee Fields is another one of these new artists. After 35 plus years of doing his thing in various regional club circuits, 2005 saw Fields sign to Brooklyn’s Truth and Soul Records. After releasing two critically acclaimed albums and a string of buzzed-about tours, Fields is set to release Faithful Man. Faithful Man almost sounds like a compilation of great songs from the greatest soul genres. Fields’ sound bounces from early, raucous Motown, to Memphis Stax, some subtle southern funk even a bit of faux soul psych—all bound together with Fields’ joyful growl.
“Still Hanging On” is a breezy, Sam Cooke-like BBQ jam w Fields’ relaxed delivery like a chilled sip of beer on a summer’s day—not to mention the dramatic horns and strings that highlight the second half of the song. “Walk On Thru That Door” jams a lot of production (busy strings, horns etc.) into a three-minute pop song that never sounds hurried or fussy. The title track, “Faithful Man” is Fields at his pleading best. Basically, a 50s-style ballad, the song languidly strolls through the verses only to burst out into a soulful belt every chorus.
Fields delivers the goods. Every song has a great hook and a great vocal performance. Backed by tasteful guitars and graceful soul grooves that when added to the aforementioned production makes for a great classic soul record for today’s music lover. Lee Fields’, Faithful Man will fulfill every need of the modern-day classic soul lover.
Catch Lee Fields at the Echoplex on Saturday, May 19. For more tour dates, click here.
Words by Stephe Sykes
Artist: Lee Fields
Album: Faithful Man
Label: Truth and Soul
Release Date: March 17, 2012