When: Wed., May 9, 9 p.m. 2012
On his latest album, Faithful Man (Truth & Soul), veteran soul singer Lee Fields continues down a path that leads away from the James Brown funk of his earlier recordings and toward a hard-soul template that doesn't privilege the sound of any single old-school artist, label, or studio. Collaborating again with production team Jeff Dynamite and Leon Michaels—aka Truth & Soul, who've worked with Aloe Blacc and Adele, among others—Fields rips into every song with gusto, swinging his raspy, serrated voice like a thorny bough through tunes about heartbreak, loneliness, and temptation. His killer backing band, abetted by vintage-sounding strings and plush horns, reminds me of the groups at powerhouse Memphis labels Stax and Hi—the gut-punching snare sound is a lot like the one Willie Mitchell got from drummer Howard Grimes, and "Walk On Thru That Door" could be a lost Isaac Hayes joint, with fuzz guitar cutting through orchestral swells. The production is spot-on, and Fields has the kind of wisdom and pain in his voice that only comes from experience, but almost all the songs were written by committee—probably as a result, many of them feel like Frankenstein's monster, with the stitches showing where the different bits of soul history have been sewn together. "Wish You Were Here" borrows its opening line from the William Bell classic "You Don't Miss Your Water," but for some reason changes it: I can't imagine who thought "You don't miss your well / Till your well runs dry" worked better than "You don't miss your water." This album has so many things going for it that it almost breaks my heart that quality songwriting isn't among them—as it is, it's great fun, but it could've been flat-out great. —Peter Margasak The O'My's open.