Sentimental Fool lights fires and puts hips on swivels, divining the essence of soul through one of the greatest performers of the medium today backed by one of the finest rhythm sections possibly to ever elevate a session. If there’s an enduring question of what soul is, was, and should be, the album’s direct and simple answer is Lee Fields.
Though Fields is no stranger to Daptone Records having cut sides for the Brooklyn, New York imprint in the early 21st Century as well as for the pre-division Desco incarnation, Sentimental Fool marks Fields’ inaugural full-length for the label. Soul Provider and Daptone impresario Gabriel Roth, who initially worked with Fields back in 1996, helms the record, offering the vocalist all the room to groove within the warm confines of Penrose (aka Daptone West) Studios.
Album opener “Forever” sets the mood with the lauded Daptone horn sound courtesy of trumpeter Dave Guy and saxophonists Ian Hendrickson-Smith and label co-founder Neal Sugarman. Fields reaches back to swing, commanding the song like the soul general he is, delivering a concrete love song rebar’d by the declaration, “The best thing I ever done is make you my wife, and I’m gonna hold you forever.” Partners should bookmark this one for Valentine’s ‘23 or any occasion requiring an absolute.
The title track makes use of Daptone’s expert blending of classic hallmarks with unqualifiable modernity, filling the room with Stax-level sound and making a sweet use of keys (players Jimmy Hill and Victor Axelrod) that takes the spotlight on the holler “Two Jobs”.
Another highlight, “Just Give Me Your Time” is evocative of early James Brown and everything a soul song should strive to be– earnest, sultry, and salted with excruciating hope. Fields holds court in the upper stratosphere of his range while Torrence Brannon-Reese, Kevin Keys, Clarence Matheney, and Ron Preyer hold up the stars and the moon with intuitive backing vocals.
The standout “Save Your Tears For Someone New” is an undulating exercise in emotion lightly peppered with psychedelia, Fields battling heartache with abandon and defying the pain with the half-fact, “I’m over you, and you know that it’s true.”
“I Should Have Let You Be” and “The Door” soar with ‘60s Motown vibes, the latter lacing string sounds amid the backbeat combination of drummer Brian Wolfe and bassist Benny Trokan– stalwarts throughout– before “What Did I Do” explores couples skate territory, prolonging the bliss/anguish and pushing dangerously into the red. The organ-surging “Without A Heart” makes way on the dance floor for Guy’s trumpet to thrill, and “Your Face Before My Eyes” rocks the dark of the end street, a stunning example of modern Daptone soul.
For me, “Ordinary Lives” is it, a desperate plea, lover to lover, to fight daybreak and the banality of being vertical and apart. “If you leave now, I don’t know if I can take it,” is the God’s honest as Lee loathes the inevitable, wailing, “In the mornin’, you and I could never be.” As it is throughout Sentimental Fool, guitarist Thomas Brenneck’s tone is a dark delight.
“Extraordinary Man” is core rattling, the kind of heartbreaking closer I love, and easily one of Fields’ most inspired performances on Sentimental Fool. Lee confronts the high stakes of mortality, the second act fade of the superpowers love injects, but if time is a thief, it’s also a jinn, granting the 72-year-old North Carolinian a honed intensity and ability that many half his age or more will aspire to never possess. In the record’s final moment, Fields crumbles, letting loose with, “I tried to write you an extraordinary song but this is all I got today…”
There are still good last lines left to pluck from the ether, but at least for the moment, I believe Lee Fields has finished them.