Lee Fields & The Expressions: “Magnolia”

In 2004, Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels started Truth & Soul Records with the intent to faithfully reproduce the kind of smooth soul, funk, and R&B the two had been obsessed with since childhood. They recruited a number of session musicians, but they still needed a singer. And that’s when Lee Fields stepped in. Despite being decades older than anybody else in the room, Fields brought the personal fire that they craved. Thus, Lee Fields & the Expressions were born.

In 2009, the group released the well-received My World, something of an introduction to Fields’ style, but new fans found out that this wasn’t his first rodeo. He’s an absolute veteran–he’s been in the soul music trenches since the late ’60s, touring Southern college circuits and generally keeping a low profile. As a young singer, he was called the “Little J.B.” in reference to his idol James Brown, but all the years of experience have added up to a voice that’s wholly his own.

2012’s A Faithful Man continued Fields’ exploration of classic soul and R&B sounds, but with the new Emma Jean, he finds some new sounds and sentiments for inspiration. Out June 3, the record is named after Fields’ late mother, a powerful influence in his life. There’s a starker, more somber sound, with Fields operating at a slow burn for much of the running time. Emma Jean was partially recorded in Nashville with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and fittingly, countryfied wistfulness seeps into the mix. On “Magnolia”–a cover of the JJ Cale original–pedal steel guitar harmonizes with Fields’ distinctive North Carolina drawl. No matter the genre or instrumentation, Fields lends each sound his veteran, soul-soaked stamp.

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