There’s an intriguing triplebill this July 27 at Lincoln Center Out of Doors exploring the glorious past and trippy future of soul music. British band the Black Pumas, who open the night at 7:30 out back in Damrosch Park, represent the dark, psychedelic side, as does headlining Grupo Fantasma guitarist Adrian Quesada, who’s joined by a parade of singers from his Texas home turf. In between, there’s veteran singer and bandleader Lee Fields, a James Brown contemporary who got his start in the late 60s.
For an idea of what the night’s second set is going to sound like, you can stream Fields’ arguably best album Special Night at Bandcamp. For a more cynical appraisal of a Fields show, playing to a crowd of entitled yuppie puppies in Williamsburg almost a decade ago, you can visit this blog’s predecessor. On the album, Fields’ six-piece band the Expressions does a good job replicating the gritty analog sound of the late 60s and early 70s when Fields was working overtime on the small club circuit.
The catchy, swaying, midtempo title track starts out with Adam Scone’s organ over the rhythm section: bassist Quincy Bright and drummer Homer Steinweiss, Then Thomas Brenneck’s guitar and the horns make their way in judiciously, on a long, satisfying upward tangent capped off by a brooding spoken word interlude over lush strings. “Loneliness is dangerous and should be avoided if possible,” Fields cautions. His voice holds up well throughout the record, hitting all the high notes with passion and a little growl in places.
In keeping with the oldschool vibe, there’s reverb on everything here: the drums, the trebly bass and even the backing vocals. I’m Coming Home has coyly punchy call-and-response between lead and backup singers, tumbling drums and hi-beam horns. An unselfconsciously gorgeous 6/8 ballad, Work to Do paints a picture of a party animal trying to pull his act together. Does he ditch work to go to the therapist, or did his nocturnal ways cost him his job? Fields doesn’t specify.
Never Be Another You comes across as a sober (i.e. less psychedelically woozy) take on what Timmy Thomas did with Why Can’t We Live Together. Fields picks up the pace with the funkier Lover Man, then tackles issues of eco-disaster over the insistent, fuzztone Isleys pulse of Make This World.
Lingering jazz chords and jagged tremolo-picking from the guitar permeate Let Him In, along with a blaze of brass: it’s an uneasy look at a relationship that may be too damaged to resuscitate. The whole band add very unexpectedly subtle flavors in the stomping sex joint How I Like It. Where Is the Love – an original, not the 70s pop hit – has stiletto guitar chords paired with acidic, airy organ and horn incisions.
Fields wraps up the album with the bouncy, minor-key syncopation of Precious Love. Suddenly spycams and Instagram disappear, the internet is just a dialup connection for the Pentagon, gas is thirty-five cents a gallon, people make eye contact in conversation, and it’s 1970 again.