November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Eli “Paperboy” Reed/Music Review

Extra ! Extra ! –

The Paperboy Delivers Today’s Grooves

By Jeff Katz

Soul with balls. Eli “Paperboy” Reed brings it with Come and Get It, his first big time release courtesy of Capitol Records. Reed, the most soulful sound ever to come out of a Boston high school band, is part Wilson Pickett part Otis Redding, sometimes a shouter, sometimes a crooner, and that ain’t bad. Not bad at all.

From the joyous opening horn riff of “Young Girl” (no, not the Gary Puckett and The Union Gap “Young Girl”) to the frenzied anarchy of “Explosion,” Eli and his super-tight band, The True Loves, knock out the competition with the most enjoyable album of the year. It’s a retro romp that brings back the sounds that made AM radio of the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s a treat. Influences abound, but Eli Reed’s music is fresh and his biography unique.

How many musicians take this route to stardom: start at a New England high school as a lousy tenor saxman, head southwest to a Mississippi Delta blues joint, then follow Louis Armstrong’s journey upriver to a South Side Chicago church to play a little Sunday morning organ. But don’t stop there. Venture back East to Brooklyn hipster clubs and, finally, do a Horace Greely and “Go West Young Man” on a cross country sojourn to Hollywood and the home of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Only one guy I can think of, and it’s not Rand McNally.

Eli learned a lot down in Clarksdale. Not only did he discover how an 18 year old could make it on his own in the hotbed of the blues, but how to deliver a tune. The Delta Bluesmen never play it coy with their ladies. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Son House – they weren’t asking, they were telling. When the “Paperboy” (dubbed so by the veteran players who dug the old timey newsboy hat he sported) sings to the womenfolk, he lays it down for real – he is the man they want, he is the man they need. In “Name Calling,” which sounds like a lost Jackson 5 classic, Reed informs his latest conquest that she went “from name calling to calling my name.” He takes great relish in her comeuppance.

College was no place for the “Paperboy,” and though he gave the University of Chicago a chance, it was in the sounds of the city that he earned his degree, spinning southern soul for his college radio station between bites of greasy fried chicken. (Don’t smudge those LPs). A devotee of performers famous and unknown, Reed tracked down Mitty Collier, a former Chess Records artist who was now preaching the gospel. She brought him in to play and sing at her Sunday service. Finding the Mitty Colliers of the world has been a way of life for Eli. “I’ve definitely made it a point to seek some of these people out who’ve inspired me.” Towering groovemeisters like Mel & Tim (“Backfield in Motion”) and Tyrone Davis (“Turn Back the Hands of Time”) may have been long forgotten by a public that finds Lady Gaga sublime, but they’re never far from the mind of Eli Reed.

A return to Boston jump started his recording career. Sings Walkin’ and Talkin’ and Other Smash Hits! and Roll With You got the boy some notice in the press. Rolling Stone named Reed a “Breaking Artist,” and, in the UK, he was nominated for a 2009 MOJO Award as Breakthrough Artist of the Year. With that the old music industry took note, and, there you have it, a contract with Capitol Records. Now back to Come and Get It, Reed’s most polished effort yet. The additional horns and strings add to the authenticity of his sound.

The title track is the standout, with the greatest harmony heard since The Friends of Distinction (“I Can Dig It, He Can Dig It, She Can Dig It, We Can Dig It…”). “Come and Get It,” the song, was recently BBC Radio 2’s “Record of the Week.” In “Tell Me What I Wanna Hear,” Reed turns the impossible, taking the melody of Ray Stevens’ cornball classic “Everything is Beautiful” and making it swing. His gospel grooming comes through in the thumping hand clapper “You Can Run On.” There’s no praising the good Lord here. The religious grounds: Eli’s irresistibility to the helpless female.

Reed is a big fan of the ultimate musical expression, the 3 minute pop song. “For me,” says Reed, “it’s all about writing pop songs. Soul music was the greatest pop music of the 20th century and its influence is so far-reaching.” Write on, brother.

The penultimate track, “Pick Your Battles,” takes the album down several notches. It’s a breather, folks, for the insane horns of a Medieval celebration run amok. “Explosion” is a fuzzy treat, crazy man, just crazy. Part James Brown, part Eli Reed. Prepare for the countdown. BOOM!

The cover of Come and Get It shows a generic supermarket, its shelves crammed with packages labeled meat sauce, bleach, crackers… You get the idea. Smack in the middle is the always sharp Eli “Paperboy” Reed. His pompadour (absent in off-hours) rises high, his leather suit shines, his black boots gleam. When you visit your local store, pick up a copy of his latest. but don’t head to the “7 items or less” line. All 12 cust on Come and Get It are part of a well-balanced and musically nutritious diet.


Illustration by Nate Katz

One-Trick Pony Thirty Years Later

By Jeff Katz

Nineteen-eighty was a tough year for ‘60’s rock icons. January found Paul McCartney in a Tokyo jail, forced to sing “Yesterday” repeatedly by fellow inmates after being busted by customs officials for possession of marijuana. In May, Macca released a logic defying embrace of synth-pop on McCartney II, the cover bearing a striking similarity to a mug shot. Bob Dylan was in the middle of his “praised be Jesus” period, releasing one of the worst records in his catalog, Saved. The Rolling Stones were well into self-parody, and Emotional Rescue, their summer release, was a weak collection, the best songs a hollow mimicry of their sound, the worst unlistenable. No one had a worse year than John Lennon, gunned down in December by a lunatic.

The new decade saw a new face on the silver screen – Paul Simon. One-Trick Pony, both the movie and album, were the first missteps of Simon’s remarkably successful career. After a cute cameo in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and a hilarious donning of a turkey suit on Saturday Night Live, Simon spent three years writing the screenplay and the songs for his first and only starring role as one-hit has-been Jonah Levin (Levin’s “Soft Parachutes” is including in the CD release). Levin is the “there but for the grace of God” version of Simon. Simon in the lead role is difficult to watch, his range lying somewhere between sleepwalker and corpse. A smoldering sex symbol he is not.

The film has many redeeming scenes: Jonah shaving while his little son pretends, a two-man baseball game between father and child in Central Park, and Levin’s band playing a naming game called “Rock and Roll Deaths” in the van between gigs, arguing whether they should separate the plane crash victims from the overdosers. One-Trick Pony is worth tracking down. Not only do you get to see Paul Simon’s miraculously lush head of hair, most recently seen thinning and combed over on 1977’s Greatest Hits, Etc., but you can also marvel at Lou Reed as a scumbag record producer.

Critics hated the movie and audiences stayed away. It was a resounding flop. But, hey, acting was not Paul Simon’s forte, cut him some slack. Music, now that’s where he ruled. After all, there hadn’t been one solo album of Simon’s that wasn’t better, by far, than anything Simon & Garfunkel produced. That the vinyl version of One-Trick Pony was erratic was a shock to the ears when it hit record store racks on September 6, 1980.

Simon the actor showed no spark, no fire, but at least he was consistent. Simon the singer-songwriter was positively schizophrenic. The cuts are of two varieties: Jonah Levin performances and Paul Simon commenting on Jonah Levin. Maybe the Levin songs are Paul’s best bit of acting, because the tunes are flat and false, but, after all, Jonah is a mediocre performer. Could Paul Simon have intended to write half-assed songs for his onscreen doppelganger? Doubtful, though it’s worth considering. “Late in the Evening,” though propelled by a Latin horn section, is an empty experience, and when Jonah/Paul sings, “I went outside to smoke myself a ‘J’,” it is pandering of the highest order. The sly little guitar line by Eric Gale punctuates the quasi-hip reference that is sure to get the obligatory cheer from the crowd. Side 2 begins with a mirror image of the leadoff track. “Ace in the Hole” may be Paul Simon’s worst song, and that includes, “The Dangling Conversation,” which reeked of sophomoric pseudo-intellectualism. The title track lays somewhere in between these two in quality, equally as slick and devoid of real emotion.

The real songs, the songs that speak of relationships, personal angst and wistful nostalgia are top of the line Simon. “That’s Why God Made the Movies,” “Oh, Marion” and “Nobody” (especially “Nobody”) are stellar works of genius. There are more. It’s a difficult album, well worth your time three decades later as the touchstone of an artist in transition.

Even more interesting is what followed. One-Trick Pony was Simon’s first studio album as a solo performer that didn’t crack the Top Ten (though “Late in the Evening” did). It was disappointing news to Warner Brothers, who had signed the hit maker to a three-album deal worth between $10-15 million. For Simon, the one-two combination of movie failure and weak sales propelled him into a place he had resisted: a reunion with Art Garfunkel. Garfunkel’s acting and recording career were in the toilet and, he too, was up for a moneymaking uniting of forces.

The overwhelmingly popular Central Park concert, attended by half a million strong was followed by a national tour.  Paul was put back on his confident feet, so much so that he unilaterally erased Artie’s vocals from the planned-for new Simon & Garfunkel record. Now simply another solo effort, 1983’s Hearts and Bones made One-Trick Pony look like a smash hit. It sputtered out at #35 on the album charts.

It didn’t matter now. Paul had completely freed himself of trying to understand what the movie-going and music-listening audience wanted from him. So, if he wanted to record his lyrics atop the swinging mbaqanga sounds of South African musicians backing him, well, then that’s what he was going to do. Graceland, the product of his newly found liberation would become his biggest success, selling 14,000,000 copies and garnering the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1986. “Graceland” the song would win 1987’s Song of the Year Award.

­One-Trick Pony is the pivot point to the third phase of Paul Simon’s career, when he brought world music to the popular consciousness of American record buyers. For that, it should be remembered, revisited and celebrated on its 30th anniversary.