Lee Fields

Problems

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After the terrific retro-funk label Desco split into the Soul Fire and Dap-Tone camps, flagship artist Lee Fields recorded for both but issued his next full-length on the former, which preferred a distinctly lower-fidelity grit to its product. That recording approach informs Problems, Fields' second album of unadulterated James Brown worship aimed at the burgeoning deep-funk revival scene, though it isn't as scratchy-sounding as much of Soul Fire's output. Initially, Problems might be a bit of a letdown after the blazing funk firestorm that was Let's Get a Groove On. It's just as raw and organic, to be sure, but lacks a certain immediacy in comparison. The Soul Fire house band is a crackerjack unit, grooving with a trippier vibe than Fields' previous outing -- more guitar effects, electric piano, flute, and African-flavored percussion. While the music is terrific on its own terms, it sometimes seems a little laid-back and slow-paced for Fields' irresistible James Brown Disciple Number One act, and as a result Problems doesn't feel like the super-bad statement of purpose that its predecessor was. Plus, with just over half an hour's running time, it's disappointing that two of the ten tracks are band-only. But given time, Fields' infectious enthusiasm and the quality musicianship behind him are too winning to end up really dissatisfying. And there are plenty of great moments for Fields fans: Fields confessing his dirty past on "You Made a New Man Out of Me"; the humorous, age-old advice on women dispensed on "Rapping With Lee"; the funked-up ballad "Honey Dove"; the percolating mid-tempo grooves of "The Right Thing" and the philosophical title track. Even if Problems winds up a cut below Let's Get a Groove On, it shows that Fields is still a vital and dynamic funk force to be reckoned with.

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