The immaculately coiffured Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed returns for his third album release, but this is the first for a major label, and the first since he was highlighted as one to watch for 2010.
It turns out his music is as sharp as his dress sense, and as cultured as his barber, for this is an album that reeks of soulful tradition, as well as offering a few twists and turns for a more contemporary audience. So we have Wilson Pickett, Stevie Wonder and James Brown all pitching up for a soul party, but successfully avoiding the modern production sheen that Jamiroquai or the Jamie Lidell of last album Jim might have applied.
All that is stripped back so that the best instrument on show here – Reed’s fabulous voice – gets all the air time it deserves. It’s quite a force to reckon with, whether he’s entreating a woman to stay over with him or blowing the house down with final track Explosion, a big live hit that will have them bouncing off the walls.
The songwriting is clever, too, with some jaunty turns in I Found You Out and Name Calling, the latter featuring the delicious lyrical couplet “you went from name calling to calling my name”. The rawness of Reed’s voice brings over the extra ounce of emotion necessary, while the horn section are up close and personal too, baying out of the tweeters like their lives depend on it.
Crucially Reed is not complacent with the ballads on the album either, throwing heart and soul into Time Will Tell before reflecting on missed opportunities in Pick Your Battles, where he tells of how “I once had a good woman”, but lost her through careless talk. The important aspect with these songs is that the listener really feels as if Reed has been there and experienced the things of which he sings – which includes the mischievous tales of Name Calling and Come And Get It, where he sets himself up as a loveable, womanising rogue who ultimately means no harm.
A belting good voice, then, adds to some highly competent and often entertaining songwriting to make a hugely enjoyable album. The ‘paperboy’ has delivered it would seem – and there are enough supplements to keep the shortest of attention spans well in check.