LEE FIELDS & THE EXPRESSIONS, Faithful Man (Truth and Soul): 3.5 stars out of 5
Funk veteran Fields sets aside the hard hustle of his past few albums for some lovelorn crooning. The influence of James Brown is unmistakable in Fields’ impassioned phrasing and vocal timbre, but there’s an Al Green smoothness here too as he cries and pleads amid a dynamic arrangements of horns, violins and keyboards evocative of early ’70s soul classics. “I Still Got It,” he swears. True. Other highlights: “You’re the Kind of Girl,” “Wish You Were Here,” “It’s All Over (But the Crying).” truthandsoulrecords.com
THE MAGNETIC FIELDS, Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge): 3 stars out of 5
Stephin Merritt & Co. return to synth-pop with this platter of short, catchy confections for those with a taste for pop with a shot of sarcasm and a chaser of twisted humor. “Your Girlfriend’s Face” is a lousy joke, but Merritt’s wit and hooks are sharp throughout “Andrew in Drag,” “Only Boy in Town” and “God Wants Us to Wait” (“I guess it’s true I should have told you before/ And not have waited ’til we’re nude on the floor”). At the Orpheum Theatre in downtown LA Friday. houseoftomorrow.com
MACY GRAY, Covered (429): 3 stars out of 5
Opening this unconventional covers project with a dour reading of the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” and an equally synth-drenched, vulnerable take on Radiohead’s “Creep,” the unpredictable R&B diva sounds like she’s on an extended downer. That changes with her dancehall romp through the Toyes’ “Smoke Two Joints” and a good-natured reworking of My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers.” As she and producer Hal Willner wrap Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in blues-rock guitars, present Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” as an earnest duet with Idris Elba and drop comedic skits between tracks, it’s clear Gray still enjoys tweaking expectations. Macygray.com
ERIC BIBB, Deeper in the Well (Stony Plain): 3.5 stars out of 5
Some of Bibb’s recent albums drank deep at the inspirational gospel well, particularly 2007’s “Diamond Days” and 2008’s “Get Onboard.” Here, the smooth-toned bluesman takes his acoustic folk-blues to Louisiana and joins forces with Creole fiddler Cedric Watson, renowned Cajun multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell and harmonica wiz Grant Dermody. The playing is virtuosic yet not flashy, the easy-rolling swamp grooves enhancing the warmth inherent in Bibb’s uplifting material. Highlights: the addiction tale “No Further,” “Bayou Belle,” “In My Time.” Ericbibb.com