If you were to conduct an impromptu and unscientific poll of music lovers who wished they had the opportunity to see soul legend Lou Rawls perform prior to his 2006 death, the response would be unanimous.
In the case of singer Victor Fields, he has the rare honour of being able to say that Rawls himself watched him perform, and brief encounter was one that would forever change his life.
As Fields recalls, it was one evening in Oakland when Rawls referred to him as "the man with the golden voice". While the moment and exchange were fleeting, Fields says his very presence that night and those words were inspiring enough to change his life, and full a dream.
The dream has since become reality in a 10 song package and tribute to the silky voiced legend titled The Lou Rawls Project. This is the part of the review to make it incontrovertibly clear that Fields at no point attempts to replicate or duplicate the late soul legend's legacy. On his own right, Fields is blessed with a naturally gifted golden voice, with a powerfully dynamic range. And it's that tool he utilizes to channel the energy of Rawls with the same passion and conviction.
The Lou Rawls Project's emergence onto the soul and jazz scene begins with Field's interpretation of Rawls' 1979 R&B charting classic Let Me Be Good To You, backed by rich instrumentation which includes the signature retro 70's flute melodies and stylish guitar work of Chris Camozzi, who also doubles as producer of the album and is an integral reason why this tribute album is both enjoyable, and other believable.
From the initial release, the decades of Rawls' legacy seem to dissipate and allow fans to savour a collection of classics in a whole new realm. I can't imagine the pressure anyone would face recording the iconic You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine, but Fields re-imagines this 1976 chart topper in a way that I could not have imagined. He methodically zaps the pain and pining of the original, and effectively puts a fun, funk spin on it, accentuated by tasty sax work by Vince Lars and ambient background vocals. Lady Love (also featuring Camozzi) is softer soulful version of the original, yet as equally passionate in every aspect of the recording.
While the blues classic (I'd Rather Drink) Muddy Water is associated with numerous legends, including B.B. King, Lou Rawls actually recorded the iconic tune on his 1962 debut album Stormy Monday, and it doesn't go unnoticed on Fields' tribute album. His interpretation of the hand clapping, finger snapping, sing along anthem takes its place nicely beside any of the versions you've ever heard. Love Is A Hurtin' Thing demonstrates the paradox in Fields' vocal style, as it is both stunningly breathy and poignantly powerful and offers one of several laid back alternative interpretations of another Rawls' signature tune. And just as Rawls took the torch from the great Stan Getz for a version of The Girl From Ipanema, Fields also takes it and runs with it for a pop laced rhythmic re-birth, accompanied by Regina V. Fields' delightful vocal accompaniment.
It's important to point out that throughout his award winning and enduring career, Rawls only scored five top 10 songs on the Billboard pop and/or R&B charts, so for many people, The Lou Rawls Project contains what one might argue are lost classics that have been begging to re-emerge and continue the tradition of the late legends. The album is not meant to replace any of your Rawls collections, anthologies, or other musical works of arts, but instead be a fitting and heartfelt augmentation to his time honoured and indelible mark on music.
Nouveau Rawls...neo Rawls..new millenium Rawls? Who needs a label when a singer like Fields utilizes his brilliant and magnetic voice to pay tribute to a man who was loved by millions.
Take a bow Victor, because even Lou Rawls is applauding from above.
Reviewed by Stu Berketo