Lee Fields and the Expressions: Emma Jean

With Emma Jean, Lee Fields and the Expressions deliver their best release yet, giving a master class in retro-soul that sets the bar very high for their like-minded contemporaries.

Lee Fields and the Expressions

Emma Jean

Label: Truth & Soul
US Release Date: 2014-06-03
UK Release Date: 2014-06-09

Today’s retro-soul singers are the delta bluesmen of the 1950s and 1960s, having plied their trade for years, toiling in anonymity until a crop of new, hip young people catch on and decide to make them their own, recognizing the greatness that has been there all along and elevating their commercial and critical status to a level never before dreamed. And much like with the blues and folk revival of the late 1950s/early 1960s, it’s the younger generation of listeners seeking authenticity in their music, looking back to the previous generation for inspiration from performers who harken back to an earlier time when music was seemingly less complicated, more in touch with its roots and therefore ultimately truer to itself.

Lee Fields, a soul performer who’s been at it since at least the mid-1970s, has, along with Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley over on the Daptone label, seen a bit of a career renaissance in recent years as younger, predominantly white audiences clamor for relics from bygone eras, undiscovered gems still kicking around the scene and doing their best to realize what most would have long ago deemed an impossible dream. And much like with the Swampers down in Muscle Shoals, the majority of these black performers find sympathetic, wickedly funky ears in groups of young white players, nearly all of whom honed their musical chops largely on black music.

While not necessarily at the same level as Jones as far as name recognition (though that should all change very soon), Fields has certainly done a fair job of matching her in terms of quality. Following a fairly lengthy absence in which Jones, et. al. came to prominence, Fields returned to recording with 2009’s My World and, three year’s later, Faithful Man. Both were appropriately well received critically if not commercially and continued to establish Fields as a vital performer. With Emma Jean, Fields, along with The Expressions, has taken things to an entirely new level, raising the bar for his contemporaries in what seems to be a continuing game of one-ups-manship as each release seems to surpass the last, whether it be Jones, Fields or Bradley.

More so than on previous releases, Emma Jean finds Fields settling into the material, fully inhabiting it, taking full advantage of a sympathetic backing group and pouring his heart and soul into each performance. Mirroring the approach Solomon Burke took on his 2002 comeback release Don’t Give Up on Me, Fields opts for laidback, lived in soul numbers that are fully fleshed out with appropriately funky arrangements that serve as ideal vehicles for his voice which, while certainly having aged, has by no means suffered the ravages of time and, much like Burke, often employs a low, throaty growl (“Magnolia”) that then explodes when nimbly navigating the upper reaches of his undiminished vocal range (“Still Gets Me Down”).

Unlike Burke, however, Fields churns out his own material, penning each of the eleven tracks present here rather than relying on others or functioning as an interpreter of the sentiments of others. By alleviating the middle man, each soulful sound is direct form the source, undiluted and as emotionally resonate and pure as it gets. On “Still Gets Me Down”, Fields puts his all into a performance underscored by a gradually crescendoing horn figure that leads to a stark verse in which Fields’ voice, fraught with emotion and on the verge of cracking, is augmented by skeletal drums and a skittering, reverbed guitar. Nearly exploding on the chorus, the song takes a number of interesting sonic twists and turns before settling comfortably into an emotionally-charged chorus featuring horns, back-up vocalists, and a pulsating bass figure that mirrors the song’s melodic progression to near perfection.

With Emma Jean, Lee Fields and the Expressions have crafted a modern day soul masterpiece that could easily sit next to, if not surpass, the greatest releases of the late 1960s and 1970s. From opener “Just Can’t Win” through to the pleading closer “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, every song ably stands on its own as the best example of retro-soul and, as a whole, Emma Jean functions as a master class in soul music past and present.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.