Eli \"Paperboy\" Reed - Breathing New Life Into Soul Music

Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Al Green - these are just some of the legends of soul that up-and-coming singer Eli "Paperboy" Reed has been compared to. This is high praise in any context, but even more so when you learn that Reed is a twenty-seven year old quiff-sporting white boy from Boston. This is by no means a slight on the singer, but rather a testament to just how dazzling his music is. Being able to overcome that stereotype of the African-American 60's soul singer, whilst remaining true to the roots of this deeply influential genre is no small feat. Yet here Reed is, in the year 2011, with an album that is so wonderfully authentic, but at the same time truly original.


Aptly named Come and Get It, the album is a half hour journey of sweat-inducing jams and dulcet ballads. Littered with expansive horn and string sections, funky basslines, and electric overtones, it has all the ingredients of a revivalist gospel-soul album. But the relentless energy of the arrangements, coupled with Reed's astounding vocal talent, showcase an undeniable pop sensibility that sets it apart from all those that came before.


Although Come and Get It is not Reed's debut, it is his first release since being signed with Capitol Records in 2009, and despite the big step up, Reed says that the actual recording experience wasn't all that different. "Obviously, there's the advantage on a major label of funding, which allows you to, y'know, have a ten-piece string section come in and play," he laughs, "but other than that it's no different to what I've done before."


The album was produced by Mike Elizondo; a talented bassist-turned-producer who has worked with the likes of Eminem, Dr Dre, Pink and Gwen Stefani. Don't let that background fool you though, as Reed assures me there was no conflict of interest when it came to stylistic intentions. "Mike has such a diverse palate . . . and we do have the same sort of taste in music," he says, praising the producer for being "a real, genuine music lover" with whom he would gladly work again.


The vibe of the album was inspired by late 60's/early 70's Chicago soul and gospel, a passion of Reed's (among others things of course – namely cooking and vintage clothing). But the ever-modest singer says that the album "feels more 21st century, more me" – an accomplishment that he is quite proud of. "I would never deny any of those comparisons, they're obviously very flattering…but I don't try to be something that I'm not. I just do what I love to do."


A self-confessed ballad lover, it proves no surprise that "Time Will Tell" is the track he's most proud of, but there's no denying that Reed shines whether he's crooning or howling. From singing along to his dad's Ray Charles records as a kid, his voice progressed ("subconsciously," he says) to become the formidable, almost arresting tool that it is today. Just listen to "Explosion" and you'll be blown away not only by his James Brown-esque screeches, but also by how effortlessly he seems to shift dynamics within and between songs. A useful skill when it comes to reinforcing the "underlying theme of being in a relationship, and of maintaining it." Indeed, love is the centerpiece not only of this album, but of this art form, and unlike many others who too easily talk-the-talk, Reed is genuinely all heart. Being the primary writer of all of his songs (bar "Young Girl" which is a tribute to a little-known soul singer form his hometown), he seems to effortlessly connect and share with his listeners. But over and above all that, he has the passion, swagger, and pipes to bring it all to the surface when he performs.


Having just graced our fair shores to play this year's legendary Bluesfest (and "hang out" with Elvis Costello, no less), it's something of a surprise to learn that Reed's Aussie fans are not just a bunch of aging, die-hard, soul-lovers. Although this was only his second visit (he was last here for the 2008 Falls Festival), Reed is confident that there is a growing appreciation for the historic genre in Australia. "It's starting to blow up a little bit . . . there are a lot of hipsters . . . a lot of people my own age coming to the shows," he says, adding "we love it here, it's like being at home."


A reassuring sentiment for a rapidly growing legion of fans that will no doubt be eagerly awaiting his return.

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