Lee Fields has been making music for more than forty years but he first came to prominence with the release of My World in 2009. He’s spent the last couple of years touring relentlessly, regularly in tandem with another soul survivor, Charles Bradley. They share a lot of things, but most significantly they share a backing band and producers drawn from some of the young generation of soul talent – Leon Michels, Jeff Silverman, Tommy Brenneck, Homer Steinwess and others – who are taking the East Coast soul revival worldwide.
On tour, Lee Fields normally has the headline spot, so Bradley would go out first. The difference between the two acts was stark. Charles Bradley would not so much pour his heart out on stage, but rip it out right in front of your eyes, performance with a passion that could touch even the hardest of hearts. Bradley’s full frontal approach must have been a hard act to follow for Fields, as for the first couple of songs you’d still be reeling from the power of Bradley’s performance, unable to allow yourself the luxury of enjoying Lee Fields’ (comparatively) lighter, breezier stylings. But only for a couple of numbers, as Fields would quickly win everyone over with his charm, his voice and his tunes.
And My World was, sorry, is an album full of tunes, a classic soul album with a touch of hip-hop crunch. Faithful Man, just like My World , is produced by Truth and Soul (the same duo who produced Aloe Blacc’s breakthrough Good Things). But whereas that LP was sometimes a little too syrupy for its own good, Faithful Man has serious cojones. This is the record that Truth and Soul should have gone on to make after teasing us with “I Need A Dollar,” an album full of killer tunes delivered by a singer who wrings emotion out of every word. An album, in fact, just like My World. But whereas that album announced the return of a legend to the fray, this album should take him to the next level. It’s bigger, and better; all killer no filler. The same as its predecessor, but just, well, better.
Comprising the same mix of potent ingredients; sweat, blood and tears, but with more swagger, more tunes and simply more quality. Faithful Man opens with the title track, and boy, what an opening it is. It doesn’t pull any punches as the strings swoop, the guitar is insistent and Fields throws himself into every note. Everything is pulling, striving towards greatness, and while nothing matches “Faithful Man” for sheer melodrama, almost everything matches it for sheer quality.
As Fields is keen to show us on “Still Got It”, he’s still, um, you know. You could even take away his hat, his shoes, his girl, his house, his bank and he’d still have enough of it to impress all the ladies, the big ones, short ones, tall ones, black ones, white ones, all ones. “Still Hanging On” is beautiful, “It’s All Over But The Crying” is a heartbreaker, and “Walk On Through That Door” is a classic soul number that pulls out all the stops to see our hero stroll into the sunshine in style. As you might have deduced from the song titles, Lee Fields does not do subtle. But that’s his charm. After forty years, he’s still faithful to the same values that made him cut his first record in 1969–and that keeps his music just as fresh in 2012.
Lee Fields may not have the sheer power of Charles Bradley–or the pipes of Aloe Blacc, for that matter. But as he states plainly here, proves every time he’s on stage and across this wonderful LP…he’s got it.