Eli "Paperboy" Reed emphasized how his 2016 album My Way Home brought him back to his roots, underscoring the point with its very title. 99 Cent Dreams, its 2019 sequel, proves how true that assessment was. Working once again for Yep Roc, Reed stays focused on retro sounds and vintage vibes, drawing deeply from the Southern-fried sounds of Memphis but adding some sick uptown grooves reminiscent of both the Windy City and the Motor City. A former hotshot guitar slinger, Reed reins in his solos throughout 99 Cent Dreams, pushing song, and especially sound, to the forefront. He's particularly unapologetic about his pining for the past, making a direct allusion to Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions' "People Get Ready" on "Coulda Had This" and otherwise playing upon shared memories of classic soul from the days before disco. Reed has a knack for easy-gliding melodies and the smarts to keep his songs tight -- nearly half of the album clocks in at under three minutes -- which helps keep 99 Cent Dreams cooking at a steady simmer even when it veers a little bit toward the tidy. Perhaps that's the inevitable byproduct of adhering too closely to the past -- everything winds up falling into its right place, with no allowance for accidents -- but even with this slight airless tendency, 99 Cent Dreams does deliver some potent throwback thrills.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine