Album Review: Lee Fields explores the depths of the human soul on his new album “Sentimental Fool”

It has taken over 20 years, now finally the legendary American soul singer Lee Fields has released his first album on the New York Daptone Records label. With the support of label founder Gabriel Roth and the best musicians Daptone has to offer, the 72-year-old singer explores the essence of pure, true emotion on “Sentimental Fools” and impressively demonstrates his mastery. Soul music can’t get much deeper than this.

In 2001, Gabriel Roth aka Bosco Man opened the doors of Daptone Records, where Lee Fields released a handful of singles in the early noughties. Now, more than two decades later, Fields is officially part of the Daptone roster and, on the 25th anniversary of their first meeting, has reunited with Roth to record “Sentimental Fool”, a deep, bluesy collection that expertly showcases the beauty, power and raw humanity of Fields’ voice.

Fields draws on the full range of classic soul music on “Sentimental Fool” – from driving soul stompers like “Without A Heart,” where he lives up to his nickname “Little JB,” to deep southern soul tracks like the opener “Forever,” reminiscent of Goldwax and Stax, to stunning soul ballads. The single “Ordinary Lives” takes a special place. In the song, Fields sings: “Don’t go / Why don’t you lay a little longer? / Don’t go / My love for you is getting stronger / Just a few more hours…” What sounds mundane, however, goes much deeper. In this song, Lee Fields sings in some ways about the finite nature of all human endeavor and the often futile attempt to hold on to love. Themes that run like a thread through the entire album. The wistfully sublime “Extraordinary Man” is the worthy conclusion of this album, which once again painfully clarifies that in the end only the vulnerable human being remains.

Roth’s clever arrangements and production give Field’s voice and personality a foundation from which to launch his expeditions into the human soul. “I wanted to cut a different kind of record and really give Lee room to sing”, says Roth. “We took our time and got painfully deep into every one of these tunes, stripping them down to pure feeling – no effort spared, no empty gestures remaining. Lee might be the greatest singer alive and I don’t think he’s ever sung better than on these sessions.”

“With Gabe’s efforts I feel like this album depicts me as the full character that I am”, says Lee Fields. “I’m all about emotions. This album allowed me to show what I’m capable of doing. Not to say that my vocal ability goes beyond others, but I’m able to figure out the math to get the feeling you’re looking for. I’m not trying to outdo any singer, but I can interpret the feeling. I can make someone cry if I want to. It’s always the challenge of trying to make something deeper. On this record I go deeper than I’ve ever gone.”

The album is supported by an all-star cast from the Daptone family, including guitarist Thomas Brenneck, bassist Benny Trokan, drummer Brian Wolfe, keyboardists Victor Axelrod and Jimmy Hill, saxophonists Neal Sugarman and Ian Hendrickson-Smith, and trumpeter Dave Guy, along with a host of other guest musicians and backup singers.

Perhaps his advanced age is what gives these songs more gravity and meaning. In any case, we hope for many more Daptone albums with Lee Fields. While it still hurts that Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley are no longer with us, it is reassuring that Lee Fields is still holding up the torch of true, authentic soul music and will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come.

About Lee Fields

The North Carolina native, Lee Fields came to New York City in 1967, inspired by James Brown’s legendary performance on the T.A.M.I. Show, to make himself a soul star. In the decades that followed, Fields earned a hard-earned reputation as a true king of funk with a steady stream of albums and singles, including 1973’s absolute classic “Let’s Talk It Over”. Although missed opportunities and shifting musical tastes kept him from reaching the pinnacle of the mainstream over the years, Fields never let up, keeping the soul flame alive with independent releases and incessant touring on the Southern blues circuit.

In 1996, Fields recorded “Let a Man Do What He Wana Do [sic]” for Desco Records, an independent New York label co-owned by producer/musician Gabriel Roth. The album “Let’s Get a Groove On” followed in 1998, making Fields the torchbearer of the new funk revival, a Golden Age icon for a whole new generation of soul fans around the world. With a long string of new LPs and singles – including seven LPs with his explosive backing band The Expressions – as well as countless live performances in all the major venues and at all the major festivals around the world, from Carnegie Hall and L’Olympia to Coachella, Bonnaroo, Newport Folk, Roskilde and many more, Fields continues to rule the modern funk and soul scene, earning acclaim from media outlets such as NPR for his “groove-filled performances with fiery energy and toe-tapping swagger.”