Elmer "Lee" Fields sang in Sunday church services as a boy in Wilson, North Carolina, but he grew up wanting to sing the rhythm and blues he enjoyed on the radio. Seeking a musical career at age 17, he packed a duffel bag and arrived in New York City with only $2 left in his pocket. He started earning money at his very first gig and was nicknamed "Little JB" for his physical and vocal resemblance with James Brown. Fields recorded his first single in 1969 and his first album in 1979, both to little commercial success. Since 2009, Fields has gained traction fronting Lee Fields & the Expressions; the band's fifth album, Special Night, was released on November 4, 2016. Fields, now 65 years old, is based in Plainfield, New Jersey.
The audience at a Lee Fields show comes to hear new songs with an old soul sound, and that is exactly what they experienced tonight at Irving Plaza. Fields did not venture through a time warp, but instead adopted the signature musical patterns of the Stax/Chess/Motown era and updated them into a contemporary context. As the very able Expressions backed him with horns, backup singers, and silky rhythms, Fields poured himself into his songs. Fields constantly moved around the stage, animating the audience by crouching and leaning into the audience and pointing to fans as he sang romantic lyrics. Fields sang the romantic songs with a clear, smooth voice that occasionally soared for the sky. For some of the funkier songs, his voice turned a bit more raucous without sacrificing tenderness. Some may have called this throwback, but it was what Fields has been doing consistently for nearly 50 years.
Visit Lee Fields & the Expressions at www.leefieldsandtheexpressions.com.