Lee Fields / Lee Fields & the Expressions

My World

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Despite popular belief to the contrary, soul music was alive and well through much of the 1980s and '90s, but while Southern specialist labels like Malaco and Ichiban were still giving traditional R&B shouters a place to be heard, most of their records were made on the cheap with synths and drum machines taking the place of live bands and imaginative productions and arrangements. Thankfully, a new generation of soul enthusiasts has gotten into the act, attempting to capture a more dynamic and sympathetic sound on-stage and in the studio, with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings providing the new soul scene with a genuine breakout success. Lee Fields may never sell as many records as Jones, but his album My World is one of boldest and most imaginative to emerge from the new soul revival. Most of Fields' earlier albums have focused on his vocal resemblance to James Brown, but My World allows him to show off other aspects of his musical personality without blunting the raw and passionate edges of his vocal style. Rather than ape the J.B.'s, Fields and his backing band the Expressions conjure up a cooler, sophisticated sound that more closely resembles the Chicago and East Coast soul styles of the '60s while adding a percolating hip-hop rhythmic undertow on some tracks (particularly "Do You Love Me [Like You Say You Do]" and the title cut). While the arrangements are tight and elegant, complete with horns, strings, and vibes, Fields isn't afraid to get gritty on these tracks, and the finished product shows a broader range and a smoother delivery than his early-'90s sides for Ace; even though Fields is clearly more than just a James Brown acolyte, he can deliver a similar degree of heat and force. The instrumental selections "These Moments" and "Expressions Theme" give the band a well-deserved opportunity to show what they can do, but it's when the Expressions lock in with Fields on strong but pleading numbers like "The Only One Loving You" and a spectral version of "My World Is Empty Without You," or more socially conscious tunes like "Money I$ King" that My World hits its highest points and Lee Fields shows himself to be one of the most compelling soul singers at work today.

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