Truth & Soul have consistently delivered high quality music since their inception, the albums they produce make great listening because of the depth and quality of the music, paired with the soulfulness of the artists – of whom Lee Fields is up there with the very best with his, truly unique, warm, gritty, full and very hip rasp. Its just a joy to listen to him sing, whether on record or in person, he is an outstanding performer.
Born in North Carolina, Fields started recording and performing in the late sixties. His debut album, released a decade later, bucked the disco trend, featuring a slew of hot and heavy funk tracks. After years in the wilderness, his triumphant late nineties return to funk on Desco Records with The Soul Providers was right on the money. A few years later, another fine album of raw funk surfaced on the short lived Soul Fire label and when the owner left the business, he left the recording studio in the capable hands of Jeff Silverman and longtime Desco and Daptone musician, Leon Michels, who together formed a production team that has forged a new direction for soul. This is somehow not revivalist, there is of course a firm nod to the heyday sound of the sixties and seventies but the production is very progressive and now. This gives T&S a real edge and their best artist, is of course the magnificent Lee Fields. Now on the one hand, T&S have led Fields somewhat away from raw funk, however, the sheer class and depth of the soulful sound they are forging with him has taken his career to new heights. Indeed, in my opinion, the album they released in 2009, “My World” is a contender for Fields’ career best and certainly one of the best soul albums of the last 10 years.
For this, the third T&S Lee Fields album, Michels has solely produced the album, having moved the studio from Brooklyn to Queens. There are outstanding contributions from long term T&S musicians and an interesting collaboration with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who previously worked with Michels and bassist Nick Movshon on the fantastic Dr John album “Locked Down”. Two tracks, JJ Cale cover “Magnolia” and “Paralyzed”, recorded with Auerbach, are in a kind of country-soul style. They are a slightly darker tone to the uplifting, sunny sound we are used to hearing from the team but they work well and take Fields in another new direction in which he also proves his worth. Elsewhere the material is handled with a kind of vibe that could compete with the Mizell Brothers – in that songs are deep and real, yet handled with a lightness of touch that lifts them into the stratosphere. For example “Eye To Eye” starts off with a big fanfare before dropping the instruments out, leaving Fields’ stark voice to sit atop a bare piano and soft drumming. As the song builds, so do the layers of instrumentation – horns blaze and the organ swells as the song rises cinematically. On the funkier side, “Just Can’t Win” is a gorgeously layered slice of funk, matched by the upbeat “Standing By Your Side”. An interesting Leon Russell cover “In The Woods” again adds a string to Fields’ bow. “Talk To Somebody” imposes a heavy tango; and the cry baby on “Stone Angel” shows how effective The Expressions’ backing is at adding tremendous value to Fields’ tone. One track continues to refuse to play all the way through, demanding repeat restarts – the amazing “All I Need”, instrumental save for an impassioned blast from Fields at the end – it’s a terrific groove that gains in intensity, crashes into a thrilling breakdown, before building up again to an exciting peak as layers of percussion add to the groove.
It takes a few listens to get under the skin of this album but not long to realise it’s another Lee Fields classic that deserves to be listened to again and again. True art. He is still very much the main man.