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Eli's Coming: 'Paperboy' Making Headlines as Breakout Soul Star


Clarksdale, Mississippi

Thanks all the same, England, but we've got our own Amy Winehouse. And our version has twice her soul, with none of the crazy.

While the Winehouse comparison makes an easy shorthand for what Boston's Eli "Paperboy" Reed does, there are big differences between the Brookline boy and his British, beehived female foil.

"There's less irony, less cynicism to what we do and people can latch on to that,"" said Reed, whose debut, "Roll With You," is out today. "What I want to do at my core is make American music in the grand tradition. Plus, I'm American and I'm a guy. I'm not Amy."

The baby-faced Reed - who opens for Nick Lowe at the Calvin Theater in Northampton on Thursday - has spent his 24 years obsessed with classic Black American music. It began with his father's wax stacks of gospel, blues and r & b and continued when Reed moved to blues mecca Clarksdale, Miss., after high school.

"At that time I was all about blues," he said from a Los Angeles tour stop. "What I got was education in r & b and chitlin' circuit music. Clarksdale is a really tightknit community, people would roll down their windows and say, 'Who are you?'' So it didn't take long before I was playing with people in a practice space in the back of the Delta Blues Museum and around town."

After nine months in Clarksdale, Reed followed his muse north to the University of Chicago, where he landed a gig playing piano for ex-Chess Records' artist and current minister Mitty Collier's South Side congregation.

"I'm Jewish, so the whole thing wasn't a religious experience," he said. "It was more of a cultural, musical endeavor."

Everything Reed learned from Pop's record collection and his travels informs "Roll With You."

The album is full of originals with the simmering lust and desperate ache of a '60s Stax act that are dressed by his seven-piece band, the True Loves, in Memphis horns, heavy Hammond organ and church harmonies. It's like dropping the needle down on a scratchy, undiscovered Otis Redding side.

Boston's Q Division, which put out the record, is betting Reed's on the verge of breaking big. The label shelled out thousands to hire Shore Fire - of Bruce Springsteen and Robert Plant fame - to do Reed's PR.

"We're on tour with a van with seven people and all of our equipment in eight seats," he said. "So I'm taking all these really good opportunities with a grain of salt."

Reed plans to pull an Otis Redding-at-Monterey-Pop this summer and flip rock fans to soul at a few major festivals. He starts his campaign at the WFNX Best Music Poll at the Bank of America Pavilion on May 10.

Eli "Paperboy" Reed and the True Loves, opening for Nick Lowe, at the Calvin Theater, Northampton, Thursday. Tickets: $25-$35; 413-594-1444. And at the WFNX Best Music Poll, at Bank of America Pavilion, May 10. Tickets: $38.50; 617-728-1600.



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1 Blues Alley
Clarksdale, MS 38614
Phone: 662-627-6820
Email: info@deltabluesmuseum.org