With a fanfare of trumpets, choir vocals, keyboards and a Hammond B3 organ straight out of the ’70s, Lee Fields and his band, The Expressions, bring soul and gospel to the soundscape of what’s about to be the second coming of the ’20s.
Nicknamed “Little JB” for his vocal resemblance to soul legend James Brown, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Fields is quickly becoming the modern king of soul. From start to finish, Fields’ newest 10-track record, “It Rains Love,” is a masterclass in the creation of modern soul music. The vocals are smooth, the music is hot and the groove is timeless.
With the release of Marvin Gaye’s “You’re The Man” last week and now Fields’ “It Rains Love,” it’s starting to feel like soul music is making its comeback. It couldn’t be better timed. Soul and funk music have historically found their places as large sources of social and political commentary, and Fields doesn’t waste the opportunity that “It Rains Love” has provided him.
Fields starts off his newest record with the eponymously titled track, “It Rains Love.” Opening on a musical base of clean electric guitar, bass and a drum beat that emanates cool, Fields brings the record’s first song in on the chorus. Singing “It rains love when I’m with you / You’re my sun when the clouds roll through / It rains love when I’m with you,” the new king of soul takes an oh-so-smooth approach to the epitome of classic songwriting material — love. The track is interspersed by a trumpet line that sounds like it’s played by Mr. Louis Armstrong himself and the vocals and musical background of “It Rains Love” glide along for four sweet minutes that seem to find their end all too quickly.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Fields described his goal as wanting to inject the theme of love into everything. The album’s second track, “Blessed with the Best,” is no exception. The lyrics, “I believe in you, you believe in me” and “Our love will last longer than anything ever made,” could just as easily be wedding vows as lyrics off a soul record. Paired with dynamic drums, the classic sound of the ’70s staple Hammond B3 organ and a trumpet section that sounds like it comes straight out of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, “Blessed with the Best” is one more example of Little JB’s talent for songwriting.
Fields and his band takes the sound and tempo down a notch with the fourth track on the record, a ballad called “You’re What’s Needed in My Life.” In the same vein as “Blessed with the Best,” the tune carries a simple message: Fields’ love and admiration for his girl. His vocals float on top of a base of piano, guitar and laidback drums that gives the song an easy, rocking feeling. “You’re What’s Needed in My Life” is that soundtrack that plays in the background of romantic walks in the park.
The album’s fifth track, “Wake Up,” is a striking examination of the current political climate built on a funk-style musical foundation of bass, guitar, drums and a hot trumpet section. With lyrics such as “All the things I hear / and see with my two eyes / they keep on telling me / it’s fake news” and “People over there / somebody need to speak out / and people over there / somebody need to stand up,” Fields directly expresses his opinion on the current trends of conformation and disregard for differing opinions. It’s a simple message; without people willing to take a stand for what they believe in, how is anything supposed to change?
Any review of “It Rains Love” would be entirely remiss if it failed to discuss the hottest track on the record: “Love Prisoner.” Right off the bat, the groove of the track sits perfectly in what musicians refer to as “the pocket” — that feeling where everything locks together as one and the song, for lack of better words, “just grooves, man.” A beat created by the drums and bass and accented with explosive electric guitar hits lays the path out for Fields’ vocals.
It’s especially evident on “Love Prisoner” where the nickname of “Little JB” comes from. Fields sounds uncannily similar to the so-called godfather of soul, and it works beautifully. The combination of the music, the vocals and the groove bring listeners right back to the days of James Brown and his Famous Flames.
Soul music finds its roots in the gospel sounds of southern churches, and Fields pays homage to his music’s history with the album’s penultimate track, “God Is Real.” It’s complete with lyrics, such as “It doesn’t matter where you come from / God is Real” and “I want you to know God is watching 365, 24/7,” delivered in a style that’s part sung, part spoken — a style commonly used by gospel vocalists — and a full-scale gospel choir to boot. “God Is Real” is a masterfully well-crafted tune in line with the soul music found in African-American churches. It’s both an expression of Fields’ Christian faith and a tribute to the origin of the genre his music finds itself in.
Fields and The Expressions close out their latest album with a track named after the simple message it shares: “Love is the Answer.” Amid a musical undercurrent of trumpets, synthesizers, electric guitars and drums, Fields summarizes the entire album in its closing song. Fields told Rolling Stone, “I wanted to assure people that, regardless of how humdrum things are today, love keeps everything fresh,” and he’s done just that with “It Rains Love.” It’s safe to say that listeners will walk away with a little more pep in their step and a little more love to give. He’s sadly not around to give his opinion, but it’s easy to conclude that James Brown would be proud.