Review: Eli Paperboy Reed Showcases Vocal and Arranging Talents on ‘Hits and Misses’

(Yep Roc)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The Beatles named theirs Past Masters. Tom Waits went with Orphans. And The Who’s Odds and Sods delivered a British take on the concept. Now it’s Eli Paperboy Reed’s turn to gather his stray singles and other tracks that, like the aforementioned collections, never appeared on an official album, with the tongue-in-cheek Hits and Misses.  

The Boston-based soul man has cranked out retro-influenced R&B, country, and gospel-soaked sounds since 2005, amassing eight full-length releases over that 18-year stretch. Those attending Reed’s shows got a shot at gobbling up rare, one-off, 7” 45 RPM singles featuring songs that never appeared on CD or vinyl albums. Until now. 

Unlike other similarly constructed compilations, these songs aren’t second-rate toss-offs. Rather, this plays like a well-conceived, cohesive Reed title even though the material was recorded with different bands from 2009 to 2020.

Only three of the eleven tracks are written by Reed, allowing him to display his interpretive skills on a diverse variety of others’ material. Specifically, he kicks off with a wildly creative version of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” which he transforms into a horn-infused Memphis-styled blues rocker. That’s followed by a noir/reggae-bathed take on Steely Dan’s first hit, “Do It Again.” The B-side, a gutsy cover of Latimore’s “Let’s Straighten It Out,” is better. Reed’s previous set reimagined Merle Haggard’s tunes for R&B, but he was already doing that in 2009 with Hag’s “I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can.”

Dylan’s “To Be Alone With You” gets the Reed treatment with a Muscle Shoals guitar intro out of Aretha’s “Chain of Fools.” He goes Staple Singers on a searing gospel “I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To,” one of a few selections recorded at the legendary FAME studios. 

Even though this is a stopgap until Reed’s next album, it condenses the singer/songwriter’s influences and style into 35 scintillating minutes that showcase his vocal and arranging talents as effectively as anything in his catalog. 

Photo by: Ray Lego / Courtesy Yep Roc Records

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