Chicago-based reissue label Numero Group has released a number of collections of excellent out-of-print and never-released soul singles from the late 1960s to the early ’70s in their Eccentric Soul series. It begs the question why some of these artists, such as Richard Cook (on the Atlanta-based Tragar/Note label) or Renaldo Domino (on Chicago's Twinight label), never broke through to mainstream success. Extend that further. Are some of these folks still alive? Are they still performing?
Soul singer Lee Fields easily falls into such a category. Raised in North Carolina, influenced by R&B and soul singers of the ’50s and ’60s, especially James Brown, Fields sang for a number of touring groups, including Kool and the Gang. He also released a number of 7-inch 45 singles, starting from 1969 and extending throughout the ’70s. Many of these records have become high-priced gems for avid crate diggers. In the 1990s, Fields started a comeback, releasing three albums. During this period, he crossed paths with a fledging "old school" soul label (and a group of loyal musicians) Desco Records, from Brooklyn, N.Y. This culminated with the 1999 release of Let's Get a Groove On, a record of hard funk that garnered high critical praise.
When Desco split into two separate labels -- Daptone and Soul Fire (which would later evolve into Truth & Soul) -- Fields released music with both labels, most notably appearing on a feisty duet with Sharon Jones, "Stranded In Your Love," from her 2005 release Naturally. In fact, the labels' "family trees" often extend into one another, including guitarist Thomas Breneck, drummer Home Steinweiss and former Dap-King baritone sax player (and Truth & Soul co-founder) Leon "El" Michels, who formed his own band, The El Michels Affair.
Just as Sharon Jones has begun to branch out from her Lynn Collins/James Brown roots, Lee Fields, with his collaboration with The Expressions (essentially The El Michels Affair), has pushed the envelope with his new release My World. The El Michels Affair, who are about to release Enter the 37th Chamber, their own killer set of instrumental versions of Wu-Tang Clan cuts, have a clear influence Fields' new material, infusing R&B-based soul with instrumental elements of East Coast hip hop. This is most evident on "Money I$ King," with its mixture of Philly Soul string arrangements, hip hop rhythms, ’70s Isaac Hayes-like horn/string parts and Fields' raw vocals. It's explosive and new, forging a distinct direction in contemporary soul. Fields also offers a number of more traditional slow-burning numbers, such as "Love Comes and Goes" and "These Moments" and "My World."
Like Sharon Jones, whose appeal is growing, so should Lee Fields; both are seasoned soul performers who are evolving the genre into the contemporary scene. My World just may be the new cutting edge and future of American soul music.