Soul singer Lee Fields has had a long and prolific career in music, having released his first single nearly five decades ago in 1969, but for many years he labored under the relative obscurity of being a genre artist. That all changed for him in 2009 when he released My World, an album which perhaps unexpectedly catapulted him into the spotlight, and brought him a new, younger audience that eagerly devoured the now retro sound that Fields created. Fields followed up in 2012 with Faithful Man and in 2014 with Emma Jean, and last fall released the latest in his newly revitalized run of recordings, Special Night. Now at 65 years old, Fields has taken his newfound popularity by the reigns and shows no sign of slowing down.
“Can you feel the love? There’s a lot of love in this room!” he declared at his recent show at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC. And for the duration of his hour-long set, Fields transported his audience to another age, one where they could forget all of the troubles of today, even if for only a short time. A small, knowing giggle may have passed through the audience when he declared, “I can tell that everybody in DC has got soul!” (maybe not everyone, side-eye at Pennsylvania Avenue).
Fields’ band, The Expressions, started the set off with the instrumental “Expressions Theme” from My World before he joined them on the stage. Starting with “I’m Coming Home,” one of the new tracks from Special Night, Fields led the band through ten songs drawn entirely from his four most recent releases. Much of the set was spent alternating between tracks from Special Night and Emma Jean – from “Work to Do” to “Talk to Somebody,” “Special Night” to“You Just Can’t Win,” and “Let Him In” to “Don’t Walk to “Never Be Another You.” Fields and his band closed the main set with the title tracks from My World and Faithful Man, before the band returned for the instrumental “Last Ride” and was rejoined by Fields for “Honey Dove.”
Fields has drawn numerous comparisons to James Brown over the years, even earning the nickname “Little JB” for similarities in both his singing style and his looks. Yet if there is one thing that his performance and the resurgence in his career in general have proven, it’s that he is very much an important musician in his own right. If soul music has a comeback, it has the unlikely rise of Lee Fields to thank for it.
The Shacks, the young, NYC-based duo of Shannon Wise and Max Shrager, opened the show. Their music – a loungy rock and roll filtered through the lens of shoegaze – couldn’t have been more different than that of Fields, but perhaps in a nod to the diversity of the audience that Fields has built, they were still met enthusiastically by the crowd who showed up early. The band released their self-titled debut EP recently, and are due to follow-up with their first full-length album soon.