Friday, July 11, 2008

Eli "Paperboy" Reed & The True Loves - Roll With You

Q-Division Records
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Thank God for opening bands.

They usually serve as a bit of a buffer, a way to ensure that I catch the group that I am there to see. If I'm late, who cares? I just missed some of the opening act's songs, which are usually quite forgettable anyway. Not the case with Eli "Paperboy" Reed & the True Loves, an exceptional soul-revival act (think Sharon Jones, except better) that made its way to my town this April with Manchester Orchestra and Say Anything. The former was a disappointment, the latter played one of the top five sets I've seen in my life, but it was Eli Reed, awarded the honor of "Best Otis Redding impersonation by a 23-year-old Jewish boy from Massachusetts" by the Austin Chronicle, whose band stole the show.

The sounds that came from their instruments were like nothing I had ever heard before. I felt like I was watching Otis Day & The Knights perform at that toga party in Animal House, except without all of the camp. The young man in a three-piece suit on stage had a presence that belied his twenty some-odd years, and that's not even mentioning the sizable supporting band - who had to be the most eclectic group I had ever seen. The entire show was mesmerizing, and within minutes I found myself....dancing? My usual M.O. at concerts is to follow The Dismemberment Plan's advice in Do The Standing Still, which is to, well, stand still. But from the opening romp of Stake Your Claim to the 10 minute rendition of Take My Love With You, I was hooked, "The Standing Still" be damned.

"Please support us! Our CD doesn't come out until the end of the month, but you can get it here tonight for only $15!" Eli announced to the audience. I had to have this CD - problem was, I also had no cash.

The State Theatre has an ATM out in the lobby where you can withdraw money from accounts at all of the major banks...for a nominal fee, of course. Normally, I'd avoid these things like the plague, but there was no re-entry to the venue, so I was a bit of a captive audience. This Massachusetts outfit had impressed me to the point where I was willing to pay a $3 mark-up just to hear their record, and that alone should be endorsement enough.

The problem is that while the album itself is quite enjoyable, it just doesn't possess the same improvisational spark that the live set does. Of course, records are less personal and spontaneous by their very nature, but having heard the songs live first, the polished versions sound clipped, truncated. While this is indicative of just how powerful their concerts can be, it also shows much room for improvement on subsequent releases.

I'm not trying to imply that Roll With You is disappointing - not at all. The versatility of the songs, while remaining within the broad genre of soul, is quite impressive, as the high energy braggadocio of The Satisfier (single material I've ever heard it!) gives way to slow burners like It's Easier and the title track. If this sounds a bit chaotic and all over the place, that's because it is. But it's chaotic in the absolute best way possible: these Boston boys certainly make good on their promise to "satisfy", and then some (how unintentionally sexual!)

In short, a solid, under-the-radar release from a solid, under-the-radar outfit. If they could just learn to capture the spontaneity and dynamism of their live show, this band could really be something else.

Key Tracks:
Stake Your Claim
Take My Love With You
(Click to download)

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