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On Special Night soul vet Lee Fields brings contemporary themes to his old-school sound

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I don’t think veteran soul singer Lee Fields foresaw an increasingly divided and polarized United States when he recorded “Make the World,” a song from last fall’s terrific Special Night (Big Crown). Over a hard, almost martial groove inspired by vintage James Brown, Fields urges unity, deploying military cadences to suggest the potential destruction awaiting us if we don’t fall in line together. On “Work to Do” Fields pledges devotion to his wife after being called out on his drinking and carousing, giving his promise a contemporary feel with lines like “Now I know it’s time for me to take some responsibility / That’s why I’m gonna be at the counselor’s office at quarter to three.” The new record was coproduced by multi-instrumentalists Leon Michels and Thomas Brenneck—both experienced neosoul figures who’ve helped overlooked vets like Fields find late-career surges—and from song to song the arrangements evoke a hybrid of classic sounds: a little Stax here, some Hi there. (Even the intro to “Never Be Another You” seems to cop the muted guitar technique that’s partially responsible for making the Ann Peebles classic “I Can’t Stand the Rain” so memorable.) But the songs are so strong—and Fields brings them to life with such authority, grit, and grace—the production doesn’t much matter. We’ve heard it all before, but when it works, it feels as fresh as anything in the air today.   v

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