Originally published on JewishBoston.com.
A number of years ago, I received an excited phone call from a friend. “You’ve got to hear this guy I just met,” she enthused. “He’s a little Jewish kid from Brookline who sings soul like the best of Motown.” She was talking about Eli “Paperboy” Reed, the baby-faced Bostonian who’s been one of Massachusetts’s best-kept musical secrets for years.
That’s finally starting to change, with the release of his first major-label album, Come and Get It!, which debuted from Capitol Records a couple of weeks ago. If you’re already a fan, you’ll be delighted to find exactly what you’ve come to expect from Eli and his band, the True Loves: exciting rhythm & blues music that bounces from explosive excitement to palpable yearning, backed by the best horn section this side of Blood, Sweat & Tears.
If you’re unfamiliar with Reed, you’re in for a treat. Imagine a male Amy Winehouse without the smirk (or the coke habit), and you’re on the right track. At his most playful, like the album’s title track, the danceable rhythm brings to mind the best of the Jackson Five, but this is no nostalgia act. Reed approaches his material — most of which he wrote or co-wrote (under his given name of Eli Husock) — with sincerity that amplifies the emotion on the serious tracks, and the fun on the lighter sides.
How did a Jewish kid from Brookline end up carrying the torch for a sound that’s more saloon than synagogue? His sound was shaped by early exposure to his dad’s extensive record collection followed by time spent hanging around Mississippi juke joints. But it was a relationship with singer-turned-preacher Mitty Collier that lead to his first regular-paying gig as a performer… in Collier’s church.
Naturally, JewishBoston.com was curious about what it felt like to be leading the musical worship at More Like Christ Ministries in Chicago, but Reed found it a comfortable situation: “To be honest, there really was a lot less conflict than you might imagine,” he told us. “Many of the songs that are staples in the church are based on Old Testament stories so I tried to stick to those as much as possible. Everyone knew that I was Jewish and didn’t have an issue with it, in fact they were interested in how our faiths differed. For me the fact that the church had such a strong faithful and supportive atmosphere took away any qualms I had about being Jewish and playing there.”
These days, Reed calls Brooklyn, NY home, but don’t worry, he hasn’t entirely gone to the dark side. “Honesty I miss a lot about Boston,” he told us. “There’s great food, great record stores and friends but my family has actually all moved to New York now so it makes sense for me to be here.”
But the move to New York don’t mean he won’t visit. Boston fans will be able to catch Reed & the True Loves at the Life is Good Festival in Canton on September 11. Has major-label exposure changed Reed’s live show? “If anything it’s made us better,” says Reed, “but that doesn’t have much to do with the major label itself. The band has been working harder than it ever has and we’re on the road all the time which tightens everything up. It’s gonna be a fun show, I enjoy playing outdoor festivals because we can really get the crowd moving.”
Of course, this being the season of the High Holidays, we didn’t let Reed off the hook without at least one Rosh Hashanah question. Asked about his resolutions for 5771, he offered, “Try to eat a little bit better and dedicate more time to writing music. ” More music in the year to come? Sounds like we all win.