It’s been nearly a decade since the soul community lost one of the all-time great vocalists in Lou Rawls. Arguably one of the most overlooked artists on the Philadelphia International roster, Rawls possessed one of the most unique voices in soul music. Originally Rawls was primarily a jazz singer, but in 1967 he scored a R&B hit with the heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballad, ‘Love is a Hurtin’ Thing’. From then Rawls turned towards soul, and was signed by Philadelphia International in 1976 where he scored his best known hits, combining his jazz chops with the classic Philly soul sound to create some of the best soul songs ever recorded. Yet, at least currently, Rawls seems to be somewhat forgotton; sure, ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ still gets airplay, but that’s about it.
Now, however, Oakland based singer Victor Fields has embarked on The Lou Rawls Project to re-interpret some of Rawls’ best loved hits, reengaging the soul community with the fabulous career of Lou Rawls. Fields is an R&B/soul/smooth jazz artist who possess a beautiful, seductive tenor; Rawls’ himself called Fields “the man with the golden voice”. Fields has, in part, made a name for himself in covering other artist’s songs, such as Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day’, and on this new album, he gives a master class in how to reinterpret and cover classic records.
The first song on the album, and the lead single, is a cover of Rawls’ 1979 classic ‘Let Me Be Good To You’, and the results of Field’s reinterpretation are quite frankly stunning. Enlisting the help of guitarist Chris Camozzi to add some tasty smooth guitar licks, Fields delivers an impassioned vocal over a R&B influenced beat, reimagining the Philly-soul/disco sound for the present day. For us here at TF&SR, hearing this track was the first time we had heard Fields voice, and we were taken from the first line he delivered: this man does indeed possess a golden voice.
The smooth-jazz vibe continues throughout the album; the cover of ‘Let’s Fall In Love All Over Again’ is magical, and the inclusion of Marcin Nowakowski’s saxophone is a delight, updating the saxophone solo of the original to provide a contemporary smooth-jazz feel. Fields voice is at its most seductive and passionate here – almost as seductive as Rawls’ was on his jazz-infused version from his All Things in Time album. The track raises the tempo from the original to give it a funkier and groovier edge, and it works well.
Fields boldly attempts to cover Rawls’ biggest hits with ‘You’ll Never Find’, ‘See You When I Get There’ and ‘Groovy People’: the former is undoubtedly enjoyable, particularly with the added background vocals, but it somehow misses the mark compared to the original by Rawls – but perhaps this is to be expected, the original version is simply fantastic. Field’s version of ‘See You When I Get There’ is far better – Field’s mimic’s Rawl’s opening monologue about calling his ‘woman’ who is ‘at home’, which actually works very well, as does the combined neo-soul, smooth-jazz vibe of the track. ‘Groovy People’, again, is one of Rawls’ biggest, and to his credit Fields tries hard to re-work the song from the original, giving it a dance beat which only partially works. Indeed, on first listen it is a bit abrasive, but give it time: Fields vocals are, once again, brilliant and hearing the song a second time reveals subtleties to the dance feel.
A standout from the album is Fields’ take on the song that thrust Rawls’ towards success: ‘Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing’. His vocals possess a velvety goodness here, cloaking the listener with such a smooth, sexy sound. The horn arrangement is equally delightful here, combining with Fields’ vocal performance to create a beautiful rendition of arguably Rawls’ most important hit.
The Lou Rawls Project lays down the gauntlet for other artists of all genres who are considering to make their next album a covers album. In an era when record executives prefer to churn out cover after cover of the same songs in a safe bet to make a return on their artistic investment, Fields reminds us that covers albums can be very good indeed. Fields has created a beautiful tribute to one of the finest voices in soul music, and shows off his own beautiful voice in the process.