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Two men, two backing bands with nostalgic-sounding names—-in a neo-soul showdown, who reigns supreme?  The ’60s-inspired Motown/Philly Soul/Stax sounds of Eli “Paperboy” Reed and Mayer Hawthorne aren’t particularly innovative, but they do pack a bonafide wallop. Call them rock ‘n’ soulers or soul revialists—-both are on a sanctifying mission to transcend the label of “imitator.” Hawthorne performs at the Black Cat tonight; Reed is at Jammin’ Java on Tuesday. Can only handle so much white-boy soul? Check out our handy guide below and make an informed decision.

Eli “Paperboy” Reed Mayer Hawthorne

Chief Influences

Reed is almost equal parts Otis Redding/Wilson Pickett/Sam Cooke/one of those unknown amazing bluesmen who played every juke in The Delta. He has the ability to evoke the raw, emotional heaviness like those few giants. His “It’s Easier” is just one example.

Chief Influences

Hawthorne’s falsetto might as well make him Eddie Kendricks‘ love child. Kendricks was of course, the lead singer of The Temptations before David Ruffin and had relative success with his solo “Keep on Truckin.” Hawthorne calls himself a student of Philadelphia Soul, and you can hear much of The Delphonics in “I Wish it Would Rain.” Alas, Hawthorne can barely eke out that falsetto.

Best Wilson Pickett Howl

Undeniably, Eli Reed.

Best Curtis Mayfield Impression

Hawthorne’s “No Strings.” However, Hawthorne dares not attempt Mayfield’s balance of soulfulness and hard-hitting social commentary that made Superfly a critical and commercial success.

Blue Light in the Basement Award

Reed’s “Am I Just Foolin’ Myself” is a slow-drag of a song that sounds like it stumbled out of the Stax archives.

Catchiest Hook

Hawthorne’s “Maybe So, Maybe No.”

Sartorial Win

Reed’s superior choice of metallic sharkskin suits:

Say what you will about sharkskin suits, but at least Eli Reed commits to a look. His bronze, olive, and navy suits have a kind of Mad Men-like precision, both in the tailoring and specificity. His nickname as the “Paperboy” stemmed from his choice of the hat he started wearing in high school.

Sartorial Misstep

Hawthorne’s insistence upon fresh kicks:

Hawthorne is Mark Ronson’s sloppier doppelganger. Who wants to look like a knock-off Ronson? Also, Hawthorne’s ingratiating insistence upon fresh Dunks or Neon Adidas with sweaters in coordinating colors is a self-conscious nod that’s all “hey, umm yeah…i’m kind of just playing at this thing between projects…you know how it goes.” In his more “hood” persona, Hawthorne is drawn to argyle sweater vests and fitted caps which rep his city.

Best Backing Band

The True Loves I’m inserting my own personal bias here, as I spent a strange, roaming, and group-hug-heavy night with the True Loves in Nashville, Tenn. The True Loves consist of: Ryan “Man Hawk” Spraker, Mike “Money” Montgomery, Attis Jerrell “Lemon Lime” Clopton, JB “30 Seconds” Flatt, Freddy “Puppy” Deboe, Michael Jelani “Tron” Brooks and “Baby” Jay Jennings.

Mainstream Appeal/Endorsements

Both artists have been heavily lauded by and featured on NPR, Spinner, and beyond. But Hawthorne’s 2009 endorsement via Twitter from John Mayer and his “Gangsta-Luv” collaboration with Snoop Dog are sure signals that his trend reading is off the charts. Hawthorne attracts listeners through his association with fellow Stones Throw label mates (Madlib and his many incarnations). For additional consideration is his L.A. home base, and that he sometimes raps under the nom de plum Haircut. Hawthorne wins (loses) in the category.