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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Lee Fields is one of soul music's most eclectic and prolific artists. His 15 albums have ranged from James Brown-style funk to contemporary Southern soul.

Reviewer Oliver Wang says that Fields' latest, it's called "My World," finds a solid middle ground among his many styles.

OLIVER WANG: North Carolina's Lee Fields has always been a challenging singer to place in time.

(Soundbite of song, "She's a Love Maker")

WANG: As a young artist in the 1970s, his style was so similar to James Brown, people called him Little J.B.

(Soundbite of song, "She's a Love Maker")

WANG: If you heard his 1979 debut, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was recorded a decade earlier.

(Soundbite of song, "She's a Love Maker")

Mr. LEE FIELDS (Singer): (Singing) She's a love maker. She's all right.

WANG: Fields more or less disappeared during the 1980s, but resurfaced in the early '90s as part of the Southern rhythm and blues scene. You could still hear traces of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett in his crooning, but musically he updated to cheap synthesizers and drum machines.

(Soundbite of song, "Meet Me Tonight")

Mr. FIELDS: (Singing) I want you to meet me tonight. The same place…

Unidentified People: (Singing) Meet me tonight.

Mr. FIELDS: (Singing) …same time.

WANG: Despite a lucrative career in Southern soul, Fields' Little J.B. days were a persistent itch. By the end of the 1990s, Fields found a band that could help him scratch it.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Get A Groove On")

WANG: Many of the same players who are now part of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings recorded with Fields for his 1999 "Let's Get a Groove On," nailing a pitch-perfect funk sound that evaded Fields even a quarter-century earlier.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Get A Groove On")

Mr. FIELDS: (Singing) Come on, girl, let's get our groove on before we got to get a move on. Come on.

WANG: For the last decade, Fields has kept his career firmly planted in the venerable Southern R&B scene while raising his profile amongst the retro-soul hipsterati in Brooklyn, Paris and beyond.

His latest release, "My World," is another rewind to the 1960s and '70s, but more so than any of his other albums, it finds an ideal middle ground between the slow grind of Southern blues and the faster, funkier stylings of retro soul.

(Soundbite of song, "Ladies")

Mr. FIELDS (Singing) When I saw you walking by, girl, you blew my mind. The way you looked and smiled at me, girl, I saw a sign. And when you pass me by, you're like candy to my eyes. You're sugar, spice, you're everything nice. A man is incomplete without a lady in his life.

You can take a bad day and make it turn out right. You can take a blind corner and make him see the light. You can take a broken heart and make it new again. You can break his heart and make him less than a man. You can take a man and make him feel like a king. What a man wants only you could ever bring.

Lady, beautiful lady…

WANG: Lee Fields' voice has lost some of the fire of his youth, but its graceful aging lends itself well to the album's sublime slow jams.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Dove")

WANG: His impassioned pleas now resonate with a poignant fragility so familiar to generations of great balladeers. In a curious case of musical evolution, the older Fields becomes, the closer he gets to perfecting the sound of soul that he grew up with as a young man.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Dove")

Mr. FIELDS: (Singing) Don't leave me like this. Can't go on, for my love for you, girl, is going, going, going strong. And if you leave me, baby, no I won't, I won't last for long. Without you in my life, oh, my life is gone.

BRAND: The CD is called "My World" by Lee Fields. Our reviewer is Oliver Wang. He's a professor at Cal State Long Beach. And he writes the blog soulsides.com, where you can see a picture of Lee Fields and listen to some of his music. You can also hear Lee Fields in concert at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Honey Dove")

Mr. FIELDS: (Singing) It could be like it was. The only thing we need is just a little bit of trust.

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