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Lee Fields & The Expressions - My World

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Artist: Lee Fields & The Expressions

Album: My World

Label: Truth & Soul

Review date: Sep. 23, 2009

Lee Fields called me an asshole once. At a show in Brooklyn, Lee asked the audience for a show of hands of who’d rather be a "cheater" or a "cheatee.” I thought about it and decided that being a cheater sounded like a lot of trouble, so I raised my hand as a cheatee. That’s when Lee called me an asshole.

After hearing My World, Lee’s new album with the Expressions on Truth & Soul, I understand now how I may have offended the man. Heartaches and betrayals are not subjects Fields takes lightly. Lee’s world is a world of pain, of disappointments both personal and political. That makes it sound cliché, and it is in places. Well-worn refrains such as "What can a man do / When a woman is all he’s got?" from the opener “Do You Love Me (Like You Say You Do)” aren’t exactly braving new lyrical territory, but Fields imbues these lines with a believability few modern singers could emulate.

This dynamic is reproduced all throughout My World, in some cases inducing a kind of post-ironic whiplash. For instance, on "Money I$ King,” it’s hard to tell whether Fields and the gang are referencing or parodying the O’Jays classic. "Ladies,” meanwhile, is silly enough to be a Flight of the Conchords outtake, yet Fields not only delivers it straight, but with aching sincerity.

But there are moments that verge on the sublime. The Isaac Hayes-style dramatic reinvention of the Supremes’ classic "My World is Empty Without You" sums up the album’s thematic sentiment nicely on its own, but is especially poignant leading into Fields’ original "My World" – a break-heavy mood piece showcasing the vibes and keys of El Michels Affair alumni Leon Michels and Toby Pazner.

The virtuosity of the Expressions plays a large part in painting Lee’s world. Washes of organ, sombre brass and string crescendos provide a tense, solipsistic backdrop for Fields’ anguished performance, and the album’s three lighter, funkier instrumentals offer a welcome break from the tension. The quality of the production is such that the music could have real crossover potential, if Fields’ vocal and stylistic terrain weren’t so uniform and relentlessly downbeat.

After nearly 40 years as a funk and soul icon, Lee Fields is hardly reinventing the genre, but for those who take their heartache as seriously as Lee, it doesn’t matter. My World is as good as it gets.

By Nick Cuce'

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