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Eli 'Paperboy' Reed Channels Soul's Giants

Just who does Eli "Paperboy" Reed think he is? The reincarnation of the wicked Wilson Pickett? A skillful James Brown imitator? Winner of the Austin Chronicle's award for "best Otis Redding impersonation by a 23-year-old Jewish boy from Massachusetts"?

The answers: Yes, yes, and yes. Now 24, Reed spent his 18th year singing in the juke joints of Mississippi, and Delta DNA must have seeped into his bloodstream. Reed, who owes his nickname to a favorite paperboy-style hat, goes for the sound of Southern soul, circa 1968: thick and juicy horns riding up and down the scales, stinging and slashing guitar riffs, fat drum beats. They're all there on "(Am I Just) Fooling Myself," a soul-drenched slow drag for a woman who stole a man's heart, then stole away.

There's a bit of a double meaning going on in Reed's self-penned song. Can he possibly match the intensity of the soul kings of four decades ago, or is he just fooling himself? One thing is clear: Like the late, great singers he idolizes, the Yankee pretender croons with tear-jerking tenderness, shrieks like an in-tune banshee, and turns clichés into bittersweet truths about the illusory nature of love.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.