There's an old saying — you might be familiar with it, you might not — that goes something like this: "Record collectors are pretentious assholes." It's not an indictment of every single person who buys music or assembles a decent stack of albums for their own personal pleasure. No, when people talk about record "collectors," they're talking about a very specific subset of humanity — they're talking about the folks who will drop a few hundred bucks for a single that has a fart noise on the fade-out that isn't on the album cut. They're talking about the kind of people who will sacrifice friendships in order to complete their collection of test-pressings recorded during Columbus, Ohio's Independence Day Flood. They're talking about the sort of person who'll stab you for your styrene 45 of The Flares' "Foot Stompin' Part 1."
Part of what makes these collectors a breed apart — and distinctly insufferable conversationalists — is their constant clamoring about "authenticity" in the music they obsess over. If it wasn't recorded in a bunker using two tin cans and a piece of floss, it's "overproduced." If the recording artist didn't go to the right tailor, or the label used a font that isn't revisionist-lexicon approved, then they're an impostor. If the artist isn't from the geographic region acknowledged to have produced the finest examples of the prescribed sound — and even if the artist is trying really hard to do it right — said artist is immediately written off as a poseur and a fraud. And if that artist doesn't fit some misguided and poorly rationalized ethnic qualification that said collectors have constructed in their paltry little noggins? Well, then that artist might as well pack up their microphone and enroll in that CPA class their mom told 'em about.
And it's with this mindset that I originally approached the recorded output of new-jack soul singer Eli "Paperboy" Reed. Superficially speaking, the dude had all the cards stacked against him. For one, he's a white guy with a perfectly coiffed pompadour and the sort of baby face that makes the less handsome among us want to start throwing punches. Multiply that by the fact he's from Boston, of all places — a great music town for sure, but not exactly known for its soul. (This of course all depends on how you rate J. Geils and Gang Green, but that's a discussion for another day.) And then, to top it off, he acknowledges that he's not a natural soul man, and moves to the South to learn what he's supposed to be doing. For all intents and purposes, your bullshit meter should be buried in the red by now. I know mine was.
The irony, of course, is that I'm a white guy, from the Boston area, who moved to the South in search of an understanding of soul music that one cannot find in Suffolk County. This is obviously a classic case of the pot calling the kettle bullshit — but what can I say, I'm a record collector and you know what those people are like. And while I feel that I was correct in being skeptical of publicists and critics who claimed Reed to be this generation's Sam Cooke or Otis Redding — I'd argue he's closer to a Brook Benton or Johnnie Taylor — I also feel correct in stating that Reed's latest album, Come and Get It, is fucking awesome. Nobody is more shocked about this endorsement than I am. Trust me.
Sure, Come and Get It doesn't belong to the J.B.'s-by-proxy school of hard funk that seems to be the standardized sound for the latest crop of R&B revivalists, and the production is super-clean — some of my peers have been throwing around pejoratives like "Huey Lewis" and "Hall & Oates," which is just kinda catty — but damn, does the Paperboy know his way around a melody. And by emphasizing the melodic over the rhythmic, Reed stands out from the Dap-Kings wannabes, and lands closer to the classic compositions of Hayes and Porter or Holland-Dozier-Holland. He's not in the same league as Hayes and Porter or Holland-Dozier-Holland yet, but he's a lot closer to that mythical soul ideal than many of his peers, which is close enough for me. From the soulful strut of opener "Young Girl" — an obscure Boston soul track from way back, natch — to the fiery, fuzzed-up funk of closer "Explosion," Come and Get It is an album steeped in a love of soul music, unsullied by a desire to be anything more than that — no hipster fetishism, no contemporary production tricks, and, best of all, no bullshit.
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