For most of his five-decade career, soulman Lee Fields has been reveling in the good foot funk of his inspiration James Brown, and the grooves offered by labels like Stax, Volt, Goldwax, and Hi. On Special Night, those references remain abundant, but the singer's focus is different. The set was co-produced by the Expressions' Leon Michels and Thomas Benneck. Their willingness to add special embellishments like reverb and psych effects add dimension to these songs. The album was recorded in three weeks direct to analog tape. Fields shifts his own M.O. by channeling his inner lover man here. The title-track opener is a sultry babymaker, wrapped in a nearly cascading, nearly Baroque-sounding B-3, undulant horns, in-the-pocket drums, and an in-your-face bassline. Fields expresses gratitude for the enduring love of his partner, sensually celebrating her presence in his life as a transformational force. The Goldwax Records-styled horn chart on "Work to Do" is structured like a vocal backing chorus. Up front, the protagonist declares regret at messing up his life with drink. Fields lays bare his emotions. The narrative details not only his failures, but his lover's threat to leave him unless something changes. His commitment to the lyrical and what it embodies is total. The humility in his voice doesn't beg, it affirms -- it relays the truth of a willingness to go to any lengths for redemption and the preservation of his family. In "Lover Man," his desire for his beloved is portrayed as a nearly physical ache. His pleading, fantasizing, cajoling, and desire are framed by jazzy horns, a spiky wall of guitars, bumping bass, and steady-rolling snare and hi-hat accents. Fields doesn’t leave the funk completely off the record, however. The burning, uptempo jumper "Make the World" -- complete with strutting J.B.'s-esque brass -- is a squalling anthem with all instruments on stun and the singer offering his best Edwin Starr growls. "How I Like It" is grimy uptown funk that employs juxtaposing fuzzy guitar and basslines with the straight-up fingerpopping drums and horns. But even with all the sweat and grease on display, it's still a love song: Fields revels in his beloved's qualities simply because they're hers. The organ breakdown is tasty, adding an exclamation point. Set-closer "Precious Love" is a summery bubbler with punchy, lyrical horns, spidery guitar, popping snare, and an urgent bassline; they all surround Fields' affirmative testament to love's power as a force of nature: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Special Night may not be radically different, but it is deeper, wider, and more varied in composition, production, and arrangement. Fields & the Expressions' performances, as always, are nothing less than remarkable, making it a must for fans of retro soul.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek