One of the strangest things you’ll hear – or hear about – in music this year is John Oates doing a country album. Yes, he of Hall & Oates, the Maneater/She’s Gone co-creator. There’s nothing on this album that sounds like anything he did with Daryl Hall. And there’s no reason to have ever guessed this might be the next thing to come from Oates. But here it is. And after a few listens it starts to make a lot of sense.
It was originally slated as a tribute to Mississippi John Hurt – and if that seems even weirder the album might have been a lot better if it had stayed entirely in that vein. We get Stack O Lee, Spike Driver Blues and My Creole Belle – and they’re all highlights, and Hurt gets referenced in one of Oates’ two originals (Dig Back Deep).
The title track is the other Oates original and though it’s the connection to the theme – a tribute to Oates’ roots, it’s also the weakest song here. It takes a great band and makes them sound like they’re being paid to play lowest common denominator country pub-rock – as if the sound they think they’re making is passable Steve Earle, when it’s really just Blake Shelton.
But that’s the only weak spot, the deft picking, lovely production, and wise songs choices all shine. Even the grit in John Oates voice is warm and, well, correct. Sure, sure, you’ll have purists telling you to head to the hills and find the originals – and Oates is clearly saying that too; doesn’t mean this record can’t and shouldn’t exist.
It’s a huge surprise to me – I didn’t know what to make of it the first few times I played it. There was always something urging me back, and then after a half-dozen spins it really started to connect.
The Good Road Band features the pedal steel of Russ Pahl and mandolin of Sam Bush – these are crucial components. But cellist Nathaniel Smith, drummer/percussionist Josh Day, bassist Steve Mackey and guitarist Guthrie Trapp all deserve a mention – this stellar line-up is a part of the magic here.
And Oates’ fingerpicking is plenty-tasty too – the closing take on Spike Driver Blues is a great showcase, a reminder too that no harm is meant by this, it’s only a love letter. And there’s noticeable charm and good taste throughout.
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