On June 10, Eli Paperboy Reed will release My Way Home, the most exhilarating album of his career and his debut for Yep Roc Records. Inspired in part by years spent teaching gospel music to young men and his own formative musical experiences at the church of a soul music legend, My Way Home showcases a new sound for Reed – immediate and unfettered with a voice raised to the rafters and a needle pushed into the red.
Eli Paperboy Reed has returned to the studio and crafted a new album that is at once back-to-basics and startlingly current. Album opener “Hold Out” kicks things off at full-volume, embodying the classic gospel ethos that everything’s going to work out fine if you just keep the faith. It’s a notion that turns up throughout the record, from the title track “My Way Home” to “Tomorrow’s Not Promised” to “Movin’,” and it reflects Reed’s resilient spirit in the face of disappointment. Elsewhere on the album, he nods to the music’s church roots, singing of fear of the devil on “The Strangest Thing” and damnation on “Cut Ya Down” (the only non-original on the record and a song he learned performing with Boston’s Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, founded in 1945). “What Have We Done” is something of a secular hymn for the environment, and “I’d Rather Be Alone” serves as a meditation on following your own path to salvation.
My Way Home was recorded live to tape over just four days in Bushwick, Brooklyn, at the home studio of musician and songwriter Loren Humphrey (Guards, Cults). Forgoing heavy production and a big band, Reed’s small combo – J.B. Flatt (Zongo Junction) on organ, Michael Isvara Montgomery (Sinkane) on bass, and Noah James Rubin (Skaters) on drums along with his own inimitable guitar work – relied instead on spontaneity and impulse for the 11 songs on My Way Home, all but one of which Eli wrote.
Inspiration for the album first came in 2013 when Reed began working with the Gospel for Teens program, part of the Harlem-based arts group The Mama Foundation, teaching a class on Gospel Quartet music to at-risk youth from around the tri-state area. Combining history lessons with musical instruction, Reed introduced his students to classic Gospel quartet pioneers like The Soul Stirrers and The Dixie Hummingbirds, while encouraging them to write their own modern interpretations. “My love of gospel began with the sounds of the small groups and quartets, which is very different from the choir-based music that [the foundation] was focused on when I was first introduced to them,” says Reed. “It’s more guitar-driven, more bluesy, more raw, less refined.”
MOJO called the Boston-via-Mississippi singer the “king of rhythm & soul,” while Rolling Stone hailed his “classic soul and horn-heavy R&B soaked with the blues,” and NPR raved that “he conveys the heart-wrenching emotion of Southern predecessors such as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding.” My Way Home represents a return to the sonic character that Reed’s career began with, but it does more than that: It captures the essence of his sound.