Lincoln Hall; Sun 17
Considering the money and sweat Gabriel Roth has invested in the retro-soul biz as the co-owner of Daptone Records, the 35-year-old certainly has to consider Sharon Jones his greatest financial success. But putting aside Jones’s sales, festival appearances and lucrative soundtrack placements, the crate-digging, vinyl-fetishizing dude must secretly be prouder of R&B survivor Lee Fields.
Roth went into major debt (around $45,000) championing the North Carolinian, releasing a series of his singles and an album in the mid-’90s. No one outside of insular collector circles paid much attention. But, oh, is Fields the real deal. The gifted vocalist and showman milked a legit, if marginal, 1970s performing and recording career, and his self-released early 45s became coveted by British Northern soul junkies. Copies of 1974’s “Take Me Back” regularly command $400. Even more impressive, Fields stayed good enough that one of his Clinton-era recordings sounded so authentic it appears on a recent bootleg compilation alongside those actual dusties.
The baby-faced funkateer’s senses of style, dignity and humor make him stand out from both his contemporaries on the chitlin’ circuit and its modern white-hipster equivalent. Perhaps his stellar new album, My World (on Truth & Soul, a non-Roth Brooklyn label), in which Fields tempers his nasty workouts with Al Green smoothness, will be his breakthrough.
Still, it’s hard to imagine Fields, like Jones, being showcased at Lollapalooza or singing over the credits in a George Clooney movie. No worry, though, as unjust obscurity is always the prime pheromone luring old-school soul fans.