Eli Paperboy Reed: My Way Home

Eli Paperboy Reed, My Way Home (Yep Roc)
Eli Paperboy Reed, My Way Home (Yep Roc)

Eli Paperboy Reed
My Way Home
(Yep Roc)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Despite middle-class roots in Brookline, Massachusetts, Eli Paperboy Reed has, over the course of a handful of previous releases, already established himself as a rugged, retro-soulman with roots in both northern (Curtis Mayfield-styled) and southern (Muscle Shoals inspired) R&B. But neither of his last two albums, both for major labels, captured a crossover audience quite as effectively as other young acts such as Raphael Saadiq or Leon Bridges referencing a similarly fertile musical era. 

So it’s back to an indie for the gospel-drenched My Way Home where there is less pressure to yield a hit and more freedom to experiment. Here Reed strips his band and production down, losing the horns and slicker sound that played a prominent part in 2014’s solid but ultimately disappointing Nights Like This, a disc that abandoned much of the gutsy attack that was Reed’s primary claim to fame. The tougher My Way Home is closer to Reed’s indie 2005 debut that first generated attention in the singer/songwriter/guitarist’s substantial talents.

Song titles such as “Your Sins Will Find You Out,” “Tomorrow’s Not Promised” and “What Have We Done” (the latter’s chorus of “Lord, what have we done” is more directly sacred) imply the heavily religious direction Reed takes on all eleven tracks. It won’t take long to jump on the singer/songwriter’s train to glory as he bursts out on the opening “Hold Out,” singing “I promised the Lord I will hold out,” with a fervor and intensity that can be traced back to Little Richard’s earliest Specialty sides.  Organ, guitar, drums and call and response backing vocals straight out of the church provide the fuel that launches the disc on a propulsive ride you won’t want to stop until the final track wraps up barely 35 minutes later.

This is raw, emotional, and intense music that would fit fine in a southern Sunday church service as well as, or arguably better than, a concert arena.  Reed goes down to the Mississippi swamps for “Eyes on You” that borrows a groove from Creedence Clearwater Revival and croons like Sam Cooke on the emotionally moving title track. He digs into a yearning, pleading O.V. Wright sensibility on “I’d Rather Be Alone” and adds a soul/blues tint to the testifying ballad “Movin’” (“I’ve been movin’ to a better home”) where the singer is shifting to a more righteous path. There’s plenty here for rockers too; they can get down to the uplifting, raucous, nearly garage attack of the sweat-soaked “A Few More Days.”

By shifting back to his roots, Eli Paperboy Reed swings into the future for his most direct, honest and propulsive set yet. You don’t need to be spiritually attuned to appreciate it, but Reed just might get you testifying — to something or someone — by the time it’s over.