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LEE FIELDS - 23RD TIME LUCKY

According to my calculations, Sentimental Fool (DAP-075; https://daptonerecords.com) is Lee Fields’ 23rd album, and in that number there are 10 albums on his own BDA (“Better Days Ahead”) label in the 1990s and 2000s. Lee: “I was experimenting with my label on different things. I had ideas that I just wanted to record to see what that feeling and music will bring. That led me to everything that’s happening today.”

  Lee’s preceding CD, It Rains Love, was released on Big Crown Records four years ago. “My contract was up with Big Crown and we couldn’t come to terms in regard to the future in general. But it was an amiable and a very peaceful departing. I still have a lot of love for everybody over at Big Crown and I believe they would say the same thing about me.”

  Lee’s current label, Daptone Records, out of Brooklyn, New York, is very familiar to him from the past. Lee released one of his earlier albums titled Let’s Get a Groove On on Desco Records in 1998 - now re-released on Daptone - and the co-founder of that label was Gabriel Roth, a producer and a songwriter also known as the “Bosco Mann”. He used to play bass in the Soul Providers. After Desco folded, Gabriel co-founded Daptone Records in 2001 and they released four singles on Lee between 2001 and ’06. You can read all about Lee’s earlier career in his own words at Deep Soul December 2012 | Soul Express.

  Now after 25-26 years from their first studio sessions, Lee and Gabriel have come full circleas Gabriel produced this new set and wrote all twelve songs for it. “There were certain things I would put in a song, a few words here and a few words there, but mainly it was Gabe.” Lee is very satisfied with this reunion. “Some people say ‘karma’ and some people say ‘it was meant to be.’ I go rather with ‘it was meant to be’ for me rejoining something that needs to be done, so I’m very happy to be working with them again.”

  Sentimental Fool was recorded in Riverside, California. “Gabe has an amazing studio out there. Mainly the vocals were done last year, but we finished the last track this year. I flew over to Riverside three-four times. Gabe wanted to take our time with this album, and relax. The atmosphere and everything was so ideal. We took our time, and we did a lot of experimenting with several ideas to make the songs more heartfelt.”

  In the rhythm section they have Thomas Brenneck on guitar, Benny Trokan on bass, Victor Axelrod and Jimmy Hill on keys and Brian Wolfe on drums. There’s also a 3-piece horn section – Dave Guy, Neal Sugarman and Ian Hendrickson-Smith - plus five background vocalists.

  This Lee’s new set was released at the end of October, and right after that Lee continued his rather heavy touring. Still this year he’s visiting many U.S. cities, and in January and February of 2023 he’ll be touring Europe. “When you hear artists speak about touring as a hard, agonizing experience, most of the time those artists are doing things that drain their energy. When I tour, I try to eat well and I try not to be drinking everything behind the bar” (laughing). “And I get plenty of rest, so touring is good for me.”

VIBRANT

  Majority of the material on this superior album doesn’t veer too far away from the classic soul balladry, but there are also four more energetic tracks. Titled Two Jobs, this dynamic semi-funk is like a modernized Work Song, and it’s also one of the single releases so far. “This man in the song really doesn’t have but one job. The second job is taking care of his woman” (laughing).

  The Door is arranged to a busy rhythm - in a waltz time, actually – and features big orchestration, combined with Lee’s begging delivery. “This song is kind of dark, about sadness. We decided to add little light to brighten it up, just enough light so you can see in the dark. A person made a mistake, lost someone and now is trying to come back. We tried to cover as much reality in things that don’t go right as we possibly could in the song selection.”

  Without a Heart is a swinging and horn-driven, bouncy ditty with a jaunty rhythm. “It’s highly danceable. With this song we’re trying to capture high energy, tell people to go out and have a good time.” On most of the tracks the running time is just above three minutes, but a big-voiced, angry beater called Your Face Before My Eyes runs just short of two minutes. “On all of my songs I’m living that moment. In this song I’m projecting a guy that had an affair, which is breaking off his other relationship, but the woman he had a relationship with doesn’t want to break it off. It’s like a soap opera song.”

  The mid-paced I Should Have Let You Be is a mellow and melodic ditty with a very soulful delivery. “I enjoyed recording that song. It sort of allowed me to wander beyond the sphere that I normally encircle myself. It was a fun song to record.”

SMOOTH AND SENTIMENTAL

   The very first single off the album was the title track, a poignant and emotional ballad named Sentimental Fool. “You should listen to the song and the lyric closely. Nobody wants to be a fool, but life just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes we just end up in a foolish situation. When I read the lyrics, I thought that I want this song to be about an intelligent individual, who just got caught up with a wrong woman” (laughing).

  The opening song, a melodic and soulful ballad called Forever is the second single, and Joe Tex could have recorded it in his heyday. “I’m a soul man. I come from that era. I think Leon Michels (at Big Crown Records) is trying to cut something that would be more or less the parallel to what the artists are doing today. I choose to stay true to who I am, because otherwise I would try to be something that I’m not.”

  Just Give Me Your Time is a very slow, pleading – even begging - deep soul song and similarly Save Your Tears for Someone New remotely reminds you of the many emotional quality ballads in the 60s soul music. “Save Your Tears... a lot of people are talking about that song.”

  The parade of touching soulful ballads continues: Ordinary Lives is another yearning downtempo song, and What Did I Do has a simple but highly memorable melody. “In the heat of a discussion sometimes we say things that we afterwards truly regret. We’re trying to capture that moment, when we realise we made a mistake... but it’s too late then. The only thing a person can do is try to somehow find a way to put that relationship go on. This song hopefully reminds people of ‘be careful of what you say.’”

  The closing song, Extraordinary Man, has an almost religious feel to it. This melancholy ballad is full of quiet fire and spiritual warmth. “It’s a sad story about a man, who went to serve his country, comes back and people are treating him as he’s less than what he was. People, who are subject to any kind of illness that lessens their ability, are treated just a little bit different. And it’s sad. He can see in his lady’s eyes that he’s not the man he used to be and he can’t do the things he used to be doing. This song should address a lot of people.”

DOCUMENTARY

  These days in certain theaters in the U.K. and U.S. you can also see a documentary called Lee Fields – Faithful Man. “Two young ladies – Jessamyn Ansary and Joyce Mishaan – came to my house about ten years ago, and they wanted me to consider doing a documentary. The documentary is only about me and my family. I’ve been married to the same woman for 53 years, but we had our trials and tribulations, so it’s just letting the world know what we’ve been through. The music wasn’t the ultimate factor in our lives. The family was the ultimate factor. I’m revealing a lot of personal stuff. I found out that there are a lot of people that are curious, that are looking at my life as being kind of mystical tour, so I’m opening the door to my house, inviting the whole world to see what I’m all about.”

  “We went to the premier night in New York and there were people in the audience wiping their eyes. Like any other kid, I wanted to be famous in the beginning, but I found out that there are a lot of more important things in your life – like family, your wife, your kids, the personal relationship, the people you love. It’s more important than all the money in the world. That’s what the video is about. There’s a lot of sadness in it, and a lot of happiness in it.”

www.leefieldsandtheexpressions.com

(Interview conducted on November 15, 2022; acknowledgements to Lee Fields and Toby Pazner)

© Heikki Suosalo


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