John Oates with The Good Road Band

Arkansas

(Thirty Tigers/PS Records)

When you are one-half of a multi-million selling American pop duo it would be very easy to just tour the world year after year performing the radio hits that people across the world know and love. To be fair Hall and Oates have done this by embarking on huge dates in arenas in North America, London, and Dublin in recent years.

However, with Daryl Hall investing his time in expanding his successful ‘Live At Daryl’s House’ in which a variety music stars perform with Hall and his tight house band mixing in their own hits before concluding with a duet (usually a Hall and Oates hit) what has Mr John Oates been up to?

Oates assembled a six-piece band to travel with him to Addiction Sound Studios in Nashville, Tennessee where together with David Kalmusky (who co-produced the album with Oates, engineered it, mixed it and also co-mastered it with Cameron Henry) they recorded his brand new album ‘Arkansas’.

But the really question is ‘How does the record sound?’ Well let’s press play and find out…

Opener ‘Anytime’ was written by Herbert “Happy” Lawson and was first recorded by Emmet Miller in 1924 for Okeh Records. Oates’s lead vocal is smooth but at the same time upbeat as he intentionally tries to stick to the song’s authenticity with his classic finger-picking style guitar playing. The electric guitar courtesy of Guthrie Trapp puts images of travelling on the open-road for a long car journey and puts a spring in your step.

Next we have the album’s title track ‘Arkansas’ which is a John Oates own composition. According to the detailed liner notes from Chris Epting, the song was inspired by trip to Wilson, Arkansas that Oates had undertaken. Interestingly, Wilson has the Mississippi River winding through the surrounding cotton field environment and I think that creates beautiful imagery. Lyrically, ‘Arkansas’ creates a warm, familiar feeling and John Oates’ rich voice sounds more like Eric Bibb or Hootie and The Blowfish frontman turned country music success Darius Rucker then radio pop. A definite highlight and for me a strong live set opener.

‘My Creole Belle’ was originally published in 1900 by violinist Jens Bode-Walt Lampe and was picked up by ragtime-music enthusiast Mississippi John Hurt who popularized the song by adapting it to suit him. Russ Pahl (Pedal Steel), Steve Mackey (Bass Guitar) and Josh Day (Drums and Percussion) on this version take care of business with a full-sound rhythm section.

‘Pallet Soft and Low’ sounds like Delbert McClinton with powerful backing vocals from Wendy Moten and fluid guitar from Trapp which gives it real presence along with the breathy chorus. Going for the swamp-blues feel has paid off as it has given this 1908 roots tune a breath of fresh air.

‘Miss The Mississippi and You’ is a song which has a sad backstory; although it was originally written by Bill Halley it was country singer Jimmie Rodgers who recorded it on 29th August 1932 in the Big Apple whilst suffering from Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Rodgers passed a year later at the young age of 35. Opting for a slightly more refined chord arrangement, John Oates has still kept the main elements that make the song hauntingly beautiful with Pahl’s eerie Pedal Steel blending with Oates mellow acoustic guitar perfectly.

‘Stack O Lee’ is a song about late-19th Century pimp Lee Shelton from St Louis who adopted the name ‘Stack O Lee’ and shot a man called Billy Lyons to death in 1897 after an argument about a hat. Kudos to Oates and Epting for investing time to research the material in depth as opposed to just plugging in and playing.

‘That’ll Never Happen No More’ is again tinged with sorrow just like its predecessors with it being a tale of love gone wrong from Blind Blake who just like his contemporary Mississippi John Hurt died to young in 1934 at just 38 years old. Well-executed by the band but not as memorable as the other cuts.

‘Dig Back Deep’ is another one of John Oates own songs that has him in a reflective frame of mind as he remembers about picking with Doc Watson earlier on in his career. The electric guitar intro hits the listener straight away and although I cannot find any information in the liner notes I’m pretty sure someone is playing harmonica. A real foot-tapper of a song.

‘Lord Send Me’ is as traditional as you can get having been influenced by Isaiah 6:8 from the Bible and the theme of worship. A sensible addition for ‘Arkansas’ but just not a track I am entertained by personally.

Closer ‘Spike Driver Blues’ was released in 1928 and concerns the legendary spike driver John Henry who died as a result of being hit with a hammer. This version just rolls along at a steady pace and it is important to note that with the exception of the subject matter, this number is a polar opposite to Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Ballad Of John Henry’ which is fast and punchy in its delivery.

In conclusion, this is an album that has been crafted in a way to showcase not only the talents of the musicians but also the tales of the songs and the stories of their original writers. It was John Oates’s own material especially ‘Arkansas’ that stands out though as it allows you to understand more about him as an individual. I’m intrigued to hear how these songs are performed in a live setting as well as how Oates will structure the setlist. An album which is well worth a listen on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Glenn Sargeant



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John Oates

John Oates Photo Credit: Philip Murphy 

John Oates and The Good Road Band new album 'Arkansas' is out now on Thirty Tigers/PS Records.

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2KsRJzY

In addition, John Oates and The Good Road Band will visit the UK for a short October 2018 tour with special guests Ferris and Sylvester. They will stop at the following venues:

Wednesday 17th October 2018 - RNCM, Manchester, Uniited Kingdom http://bit.ly/2qNqE3d

Friday 19th October 2018 - Cadogan Hall, London, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2bIcCFT