Eli “Paperboy” Reed: 99 Cent Dreams

Eli “Paperboy” Reed
99 Cent Dreams
(Yep Roc)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s too early to proclaim 2019 as the year of the retro soul comeback. Still, powerful recent releases from veterans and newcomers like the Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Revivalists, Nick Waterhouse, Lee Fields, Durand Jones & the Indications, and now Eli “Paperboy” Reed make a convincing argument that this blooming of classic sounds is no coincidence. 

The folks at Daptone got things boiling with their series of albums from the late Sharon Jones. But Reed, whose debut hit in 2005, has been a consistent presence on the scene too. He’s had his career ups and downs — a few major label albums tried a little too hard to find a crossover audience — but Reed’s a legitimate blue-eyed soulman who, along with his tight, horn-charged backing unit, always brings the goods live. 

Reed’s second release for Yep Roc, and sixth overall, tamps down the aggressiveness he’s known for while keeping the R&B flames fanned. These dozen originals, all written or co-composed by the singer-songwriter, finds him smoothing out some of the rough edges, yet are never slick. Five of the tightly focused tracks are under three minutes and only one is over four. 

Reed and his six-piece backing unit (including three horns) charge out of the gate with the rollicking “News You Can Use” and never let the energy dissipate for the next 40 minutes. From the chugging “Holiday” that suddenly shifts to double-time in its middle section to the rocking, wryly humorous “Lover’s Compensation” (which feels like something borrowed from an old Rascals album), Reed sings with gutsy, breathless enthusiasm. Ballads like the bluesy, reflective “In the End,” the sweet love song to his wife “Said She Would,” and a title track that looks back on his childhood, are enhanced with luscious backing vocals from The Masqueraders (a veteran trio formed in the early ‘60s), whose harmonies infuse additional passion to an already righteous sound. There’s a strong gospel feel to the retribution of “Coulda Had This” as Reed gets the last laugh on a girl that dumped him with an intro grabbed from The Impressions’ “People Get Ready.”  

Reed seems especially enthusiastic despite, or perhaps because of, restraining himself on the Wilson Pickett-styled throaty scream he occasionally overused in the past. Perhaps lyrics about writing a new song in, errr, “A New Song” are a little simplistic, but Reed sells it with an upbeat, churchy attack. There is something so sincere, genuine and authentic about the guy that you’re hooked because it’s clear he is a music lifer who believes in the affirmative power of the music he sings. 

Roots R&B fans are advised to dig into their wallets and add another rollicking album to their contemporary soul library with Reed’s priceless 99 Cent Dreams.