The idea of a soul singer backed by a brass band is less radical than it might seem, considering that so much of the style has roots in New Orleans. Beyonce may have gotten all the press for what she did at Coachella, and on one hand, in an ideal world that mighty feat would have triggered a paradigm shift. That it didn’t attests to how intractable – and cheap – what’s left of the corporate pop machine remains.
And to say that Eli Paperboy Reed is an infinitely better songwriter doesn’t mean much. But he’s done the same thing Beyonce did, if on a much less lavish scale, with his album Eli Paperboy Reed Meets High & Mighty Brass Band, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a greatest-hits collection rearranged for singer and brass. The blue-eyed crooner has never sounded more vital. and the brassy Brooklynites have never sounded so tight and purposeful. It’s a party in a box wrapped up in some of the cleverest sweetest horn charts you’ll ever hear outside of Memphis. Reed is playing the Poisson Rouge on May 2 at 8 PM; advance tix are $15 and still available as of today.
The album’s opening track, As I Live and Breathe comes across as a much brighter, brassier take on what could have been a big Wilson Pickett hit from the 60s. Interestingly, the arrangements here are more spacious than the band typically use when they’re by themselves, giving Reed – and sometimes his guitar – plenty of wiggle room.
The mashup of early James Brown and early Allen Toussaint in WooHoo is kind of awkward, but The Satisfier gets an epic, blazing chart that can stand alongside The Horse or any other classic groove from soul’s golden age – the latin percussion makes up for bass frequencies being pretty much lost in the mix. The tuba takes care of that over a slinky shuffle groove in the vintage Motown-flavored Name Calling, one of the album’s catchiest tracks.
You can pretty much tell from the song titles which ones are the ballads and which are the dancefloor joints. The band move with purist 60s-style imagination from the brisk stomp Well Allright Now – with an aggressive trombone solo – to the Lee Dorsey-flavored Walkin’ and Talkin’ (For My Baby), with its dixieland-style exchange of solos. Likewise, Take My Love With You has an oldtimey gospel arrrangement. The Motown/Crescent City mashup of Love on Top is rousingly successful, while Explosion is as rapidfire as the title would like you to believe. The album’s final track is the full-band Come and Get It. catchy vamps, guitars and all.