Lee Fields left North Carolina in 1967 to pursue a career as a soul singer. He’s still singing thanks to a slow-mounting comeback that started in the late ’90s. And while he remains a terrific crooner and showman well into his mid-60s, he may have missed his calling as a therapist.
With nearly 50 years of marriage behind him, Fields – who plays Neighborhood Theatre with his band the Expressions Thursday – not only sings like a man well-versed in relationships. He talks the talk.
For his latest album, “Special Night,” he looks at romance and commitment in the wake of a tumultuous world.
“Relationships seem like they’re going through a strenuous time,” he says, calling from a tour stop in Boston. “The pressures of life in general, job situations, and added conditions are putting stress on relationships.”
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“What we try to do with this album is to remind people, for a relationship to sustain longevity, we have to grow with our partner. It’s a beautiful thing, because without change it would be a dull world. You have a greater appreciation for your partner, if you grow together,” he adds.
Fields has as much experience on stage as he does with relationships. He grew up in Wilson, N.C., but has lived in New Jersey for decades. His resurgence has brought him back more often, as he’s toured behind six albums in the last eight years. If he has a day off when he’s back in this area, he says, he’ll rent a car and head up I-85 to see his cousins.
Fields’ old singles became a hot commodity among collectors even before his reemergence, but he and his band the Expressions have released one fine full-length after another. His band is so good, in fact, it’s released instrumental versions of its records.
Even in his leanest years, Fields was never out of the music game for long. After a run of funk singles in the ’70s and the release of an album, he took a hiatus during the ’80s before rebranding as a blues and R&B crooner in the ’90s.
Later that decade, he was “re-discovered” by Desco Records’ Philippe Lehman and Gabriel Roth, who eventually went on to found Truth and Soul and Daptone Records, respectively. Roth and his band the Dap Kings helped Fields’ former backup singer, Sharon Jones (who died of cancer at age 60 in November), mount a successful later-in-life career.
“My main objective when we’re on stage is going to that place of bliss for a moment. The beautiful part about the musical trip is that traveling there you’re feeling better and better till you get to the point where there’s a touch of euphoria,” Fields explains. “You can’t stay there all the time. If someone stayed extremely happy all the time, they’d lock them up.”
He experienced a bit of that feeling himself when the song “We Could Make the World Better” came to him in a dream.
“I wasn’t trying to get political. It came to me in a nightmare – what the world could be if we don’t do anything,” he says. “I dreamed I took this road and it led me into the future where the water was polluted, the air was polluted. It was anarchy. Terrible.”
He woke up gasping, but turned the dream around when he went back to sleep.
“I went on the same road, but this time the water was pristine and the air was pure, people were in harmony with each other. Everybody was helping each other. It was beautiful. I didn’t want to wake up.”
He tries to bring that feeling to his shows.
“We need sometimes to be removed from our problems for a short period of time so we can rethink them. If it’s not functioning properly, you turn a computer off and turn it back on and it’ll function better,” he says. “We just have to get away and rest our minds and then come back. That’s when the best choices are made.”
Lee Fields & The Expressions
When: 8 p.m. Thursday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.