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Lee Fields demonstrates traditional R&B’s timelessness for young audience

Lee Fields and the Expressions
Lee Fields and the Expressions Star file photo

Lee Fields repeatedly cried “I still got it” at the Granada theater in Lawrence on Saturday. The assertion was more than an idle boast. The veteran soul man zealously demonstrated his vitality for an appreciative audience of about 250.

Born in North Carolina in 1951, Fields spent most of his career as a secondary entertainer who operated in the shadows cast by giants like James Brown.

Fields shifted his approach with the 2009 album “My World.” He discarded the soulful version of the blues associated with artists like Latimore in favor of the throwback R&B favored by white listeners. The drastic reconfiguration worked. Much like the R&B revivalists Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, Fields is in the midst of a late-career resurgence.

Most of Saturday’s audience was too young to have witnessed performances by soul stars like Brown, Percy Sledge and Solomon Burke. Fields provided them with a first-rate exhibition of the passion that can be generated by an old-school R&B singer. When he asked the enraptured dancers in front of the stage if they “got soul,” dozens of arms shot into the air in positive affirmation.

While the sound was straight out of 1966, there was nothing musty about Saturday’s show. The powerful vocals and dynamic showmanship possessed by Fields are timeless attributes.

Fields’ voice blends grainy urgency with honeyed sweetness, properties that imbued otherwise ordinary lyrics like “please don’t walk away while I’m talking to you” with enormous pathos during “Eye To Eye.” He testified like a preacher on “Honey Dove,” shamelessly pleaded throughout “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and screamed ecstatically as “Faithful Man” reached its climax.

Elaborate spin moves punctuated Fields’ shrieks during “Money Is King.” His brash theatrics during the funky “Talk to Somebody” were so boisterous that his earpiece was dislodged. His grandiose exit from the stage during the set-closing “Faithful Man” was so prolonged that even the otherwise deadpan members of Fields’ six-piece backing band the Expressions smiled with amused admiration.

Arrangements filled with ebullient horn charts and fiery rhythms provided ideal accompaniment for Fields’ thrilling vocals and engaging stagecraft. The Expressions are the sort of impeccable band of savvy professionals that’s capable of making even inferior performers sound good. Far from inferior, Fields is coming into his own in his sixth decade as an entertainer.

SETLIST

Instrumental, You Just Can't Win, I Still Got It, Talk To Somebody, Standing By Your Side, Don't Leave Me This Way, Don't Walk, Eye To Eye, Two Timer, Ladies, Money Is King, Faithful Man, instrumental, Honey Dove

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