Is there any type of music which isn’t improved by the addition of heaps of parping, rasping brass? Possibly, but there’s no doubt that from stadium fillers like Arcade Fire and The National to grassroots hopefuls like Gabi Garbutt and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the cobweb-blasting sound of trumpets, trombones et al is very much in vogue.
It’s certainly a timely decision of American soul maestro Eli Paperboy Reed to record and indeed promote his latest, fourth album, My Way Home backed up by the considerable firepower of the Mighty Brass Band. They take to the stage before Reed, in proper New Orleans jazz style parading through the crowd from the dressing room already in full flow. Their presence immediately fills the room with joy and their three song prelude means the sold out room, part of the Future Juke Festival of blues-related events happening across central London, is frothing at the mouth by the time the main attraction hits the stage.
While he may look clean cut and carefully coiffed compared to average blues musician, Reed, who cut his teeth as a teenager touring the Mississippi Delta, leaves no doubt that he’s the real thing once he opens his mouth and sings. Blessed with a pair of lungs that give him the air of a young Sam Cooke at times, an emotion-drenched Otis Redding at others, his time spent in Chicago as minister of music at the Southside church of Soul legend Mitty Collier is also apparent, as strong gospel influences shine through on track like the new album’s title track.
There’s plenty more to his appeal than that though. He drives some truly evil riffs out of his brown Gibson SG at times, with a rocking edge that would appeal to those partial to a bit of Zeppelin, White Stripes or even AC/DC. If there’s plenty there to keep heads nodding, then it’s the finely drilled manoeuvres of the band that keeps the feet in the room moving. Imagine the Stax soul revue in maximum effect, but with James Brown’s rhythm section dishing out the grooves, and you’ll see why the assembled will surely have been busting out the blister plasters the following morning.
He’s more than capable, also, of penning a memorable tune or two. ‘Name Calling’, which he drops about half way through the set, is a particular highlight, a touching coming-of-age tale of schoolyard friction transforming into teenage romance, and is surely destined for a blockbuster Hollywood soundtrack sometime soon. If there’s a criticism, is that Reed’s musical vision is somewhat blinkered, and despite the versatility and ability of the players on stage, it feels like there’s very little room for events to veer of a tightly confined and defined path of blasting soulfulness.
But that’s nothing that seems to concern Reed’s adoring public, who you feel could easily listen to another hour or so by the time he leaves the stage. They say the devil has all the best tunes, but this former minister of music can’t be far off the Lord of darkness in the quality stakes.
Main photo courtesy of Eli Paperboy Reed Facebook Page