Whether backed by a tight rhythm and horn sections or driven by a house style DJ/producer, when Lee Fields steps in front of a microphone, he puts his heart, soul and mind into everything he sings. And, he has absolutely no qualms about it. With a vocal style that echoed James Brown’s--resulting in years of constant comparisons--Fields had a lot to live up to. Dubbed ‘Little JB,’ Fields was honored with those comparisons from his peers. Yet, his ultimate focus was on delivering no less than 100% to the cause of vintage funk and soul, surrounding himself with musicians who knew how to groove hard and to accent his unique take on JB.
Fields released several singles for several labels through three decades, including the now obscure release from 1979, Let’s Talk It Over. He generally took a recording hiatus during the eighties, appearing occasionally on a few 12-inch singles such as the disco-oriented “Shake It Lady.” Fields returned with several albums in the '90s that mixed his trademark southern soul with synthesized funk jams. But, the ball really got rolling for Fields when musician/producers Philip Lehman and Gabriel Roth sparked a revival of the '60s and '70s soul/funk era, starting with the band The Soul Providers. With a core group of musicians and vocalists based out of New York such as: Sugarman 3, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, The Expressions and Fields, and Lehman and Roth’s succession of independent labels (i.e., Soul Fire and Daptone Records) invested in delivering raw, authentically produced singles and albums towards a hungry audience for fundamental soul and funk. When Soul Fire Records shut down and Lehman left the music industry, it was taken over by Truth & Soul, which released Fields last full-length in 2009 - the critically acclaimed My World featuring The Expressions. As Fields was enjoying his biggest success yet during this classic soul and funk movement, he partnered with popular French DJ Martin Solveig for two major dance hits--“Jealousy” and “I Want You”--that easily merged old school JB-enriched funk with house-fueled rhythms.
Now with his most accessible recording to date, Treacherous (BDA Records), foregoes the full live band setting in favor of more electronic beats as Fields’ soul wrenching vocals bonds with futuristic R&B/hip-hop, smooth jazz, Euro pop, funk and reggae. Despite the absence of The Expressions, most of Treacherous should still satisfy the cravings of classic soul and funk aficionados. Solveig’s influence rubs off on “We’re Here To Turn It Out,” a perfect backdrop for any Soul Train line, and “Man Hunt,” a cut that would make itself at home on any DJ David Guetta superstar collaboration. Fields cleverly navigates between his JB-induced heights and soft swoops on “He Doesn’t Care About You,” with its gentle roots reggae flow, the hip-hop nuanced “I’ve Been Hurt” and the jazzy R&B stew of “I Want To Get With You.” Those who appreciate Fields’ body of work and the next generation of southern-fried soul interpreters like The Revelations featuring Tre Williams should especially bask in “I Want You So Bad” and “At the End of the Day.” As for the funk, “Dance Like You’re Naked” has the complete package, from the clavinet, to the sharp guitar strokes and a bluesy saxophone solo.
Even with a change of pace to reach a commercial market, Fields strikes funky soul gold on nearly everything on Treacherous. The only serious hiccups are “Living in the Gusto,” where Fields’ voice succumbs to the overbearing techno buzz, and a couple of cheesy synthesized tracks. Overall, Treacherous might just be the major breakthrough for this underappreciated old school soul heart who takes every microphone moment seriously. Highly Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver