“What you have here in your hands is a collection of all-original songs, recorded at Stax Studios in Memphis circa 1967, and lost in the archives, unreleased until now, by this remarkable singer…” Had the press release accompanying Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed’s second album begun in such fashion (It doesn’t), I , for one, would have been duped.
Looks as if The Soul Singer is well and truly back in 2008, and that can only be a good thing, because said soul singer is nothing without a song, and Eli Reed (the nickname stuck because of a ‘newsboy’ hat he once wore) has the tunes in abundance.
Curiously, while the likes of John Legend over Stateside, and Estelle in the UK, plough a singular furrow, it’s the blue eyed soul acts who look to a classic ’60s model, whether it be our own Sam Cooke-inspired James Hunter, or the slew of post-Amy, Dusty-loving girls, or indeed Eli, a native of Brookline, Massachussetts.
Reed’s musical education involved immersing himself in his father’s eclectic collection of gospel, blues, country and R&B, and featured spells first in Clarksdale, Mississippi (where he learnt some of the tricks of the trade from Sam Carr, a blues drummer and son of Robert Nighthawk), and later in Chicago.
There he worked out his self-taught multi-instrumental skills in front of an audience. Oh yeah, and then there’s that voice – which can only be explained by a pact with the devil.
Roll With You showcases that vocal, soaked in attitude, all swagger and confidence, intimate yet filling the room. Somewhere along the way, Eli’s picked up a southern drawl, and somewhere deep within him, he can summon up a blood-curdling shriek, and when required, a falsetto of fearsome power. Think James Brown and Little Richard, but think also Wilson Pickett and James Carr. It really is that good.
And what a band. The True Loves, guitar, bass, tenor and baritone sax, trumpet and drums, will pass any audition. If Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns are everyone’s fantasy soul band, just imagine their spirit passed on to a young and energetic modern ensemble. These are no grizzled veterans showing off their chops – like Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed, they’re all in their ’20s.
The album’s 11 tracks, encompassing tear-stained, gospel-tinged wailers and sweaty floor fillers, run the soul gamut. It’s a perfectly-formed thing, none of its constituent parts outstaying its welcome. Highlights? You can’t go wrong. Try storming opener Stake Your Claim, a statement of intent aimed squarely at the listener as much as its female subject, and (Am I Just) Fooling Myself, one of those slow-building ballads that just arrived 40 years too late for Otis Redding to take it on.
If Roll With You doesn’t stir something in your body or spirit, you’re probably already dead.