Following a pair of self-released albums that won him regional renown in his native Massachusetts, Eli “Paperboy” Reed and his ace backing band, the True Loves, make the jump to a major label with Come and Get It. For the uninitiated, the album may come across as something of a novelty at first, what with Reed’s gimmick being that of a young white kid singing and playing songs that sound like long-lost Stax and Motown sides. Once that initial impression wears off, Come and Get It succeeds because of Reed’s sincere affection for his chosen genre and his undeniable skill in performing it.
Producer Mike Elizondo clearly understands what worked best about Reed’s first two records, so he plays it straight with the album’s overall aesthetic. Whereas Mark Ronson would have attempted to incorporate more contemporary influences into Reed’s retro fetish, Elizondo does a commendable job of letting Reed and the True Loves create a wholly convincing vintage vibe. The band’s horn section is especially impressive, building to a frenetic, riotous climax on the title track and providing more restrained backing on “Pick a Number” and “Name Calling.” They may not rank alongside the legendary Funk Brothers or even the DAP-Kings, but the True Loves fully earns their billing on Come and Get It.
Still, as impressive as his band may be, the album is a showcase for Reed’s phenomenal gifts. There’s a boyish quality to his vocal timbre, which only heightens the overall feeling of sincerity in his performances. He may not be the deepest or most convincing blues singer around, but he attacks songs like “I Found You Out” and “Time Will Tell” with conviction and verve. That there’s something of a disconnect in his delivery makes it all the more surprising and effective when he unleashes a full-bodied falsetto wail while channeling James Brown on “Explosion.” Perhaps what impresses most about Reed’s singing is that it lacks the affectations of so many other contemporary soul singers like Ryan Shaw and Joss Stone.
That most of the album consists of Reed’s original material is also a testament to his deep understanding of vintage R&B. As compared to Sheryl Crow’s plodding 100 Miles from Memphis, Come and Get It keeps the vast majority of its songs under three-and-a-half minutes, leaving no time to get bogged down in aimless instrumental breaks or diverge into lengthy, rambling lyrical asides. Songs like “Name Calling,” with its references to “school-yard teasing” turning to “all-night pleasing,” and “Time Will Tell” demonstrate an almost quaint point of view on matters of love that recalls hit singles by the Jackson 5 and Jackie Wilson.
As with any artists, such as Sharon Jones & the DAP-Kings, that look to recreate the sound of a bygone era, Reed runs the risk of having his shtick turn stale. Since Come and Get It is Reed’s first major release, his style is still refreshing. Whether or not he’s just a one-trick pony remains to be seen.