Tag Archives: Lee Fields

Soul Royalty: The Music of Lee Fields

Lee Fields

In 1969, when Lee Fields was 17 years old, he left his rural home in Wilson, North Carolina and boarded a Trailways bus to New York City with the $20 that his mom had given him and dreams of becoming a soul star. But Fields’s plan quickly hit a snag; soon after arriving at Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, he took a cab to a Brooklyn address where he’d been told he had a bed to stay. “The driver charged me $18,” says Fields, before letting out a laugh. “Back home, you get a taxi and go to the other side of town for 60 cents!” Despite only having two bucks to his name, things in New York City worked out for Fields, who’s now been recording and performing for five decades. His latest album, It Rains Love, is produced by Leon Michels of the El Michels Affair. It’s a 10-track project that solidifies Fields’s position as enduring soul royalty by pairing his emotive vocals with spirited and melodic backing tracks. 

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Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records Isn’t Just About Old-School Soul

Big Crown

Lady Wray

Leon Michels’ background is steeped in retro sounds. At age 16, the producer and musician was ushered into the funk 45 scene by future Daptone Records owner Gabriel Roth and vinyl collector Philippe Lehman, who hipped him to the gritty sounds of rare 7-inches and also released music by his group at the time, The Mighty Imperials. Then Michels became part of singer Sharon Jones’s backing band, The Dap-Kings, where he played and toured with her from the early-2000s up until she passed away late last year.

With that sort of musical education, you might expect Michels to have started his own soul label—but Big Crown has much broader ambitions. “I don’t just listen to old-school soul,” says Michels, a co-founder of the venture along with Danny Akalepse, “so I don’t just want to put out old-school soul.” The Big Crown roster makes good on his claims: there’s the wistful charms of label cornerstones Nicole Wray and Lee Fields, the whimsical indie pop of The Shacks, and the steel drum-infused island grooves of the Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band. Elsewhere, 79.5 deliver silvery disco-influenced ditties alongside Michels’ own ensemble, the El Michels Affair, which specializes in innovative covers of Wu-Tang Clan tracks.

The happy stylistic ambiguity of the Big Crown release schedule is part of Michels’s goal of forming his own bubble within the New York City landscape. He says he wants fans to see the Big Crown logo and know that it’s synonymous with music that will pique their interest regardless of any usual genre allegiances. Gelling the experience together is Michels’s own creative role in the enterprise, which often sees him taking on the mantle of producer and song-writer across the label’s output.

As Big Crown kicks into its second year of business, here’s your nine-step guide to digging through the catalog.

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