Review by Chris Epting 

Recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Hall & Oates carved out a serious commercial and artistic niche over the years by tapping into their much-recognized Philly soul roots, and fusing that seductive music with plenty of their own contemporary pop/ rock sensibilities.

We all know that story, and we all know those songs. They are woven into the fabric of our collective popular culture psyches; sweet reminders of another time and place when radio and records were our musical lifeblood. A time when songs truly mattered beyond the immediate zeitgeist buzz of hollow hype.

But for all the storied sonic castles these two guys built, by no means have they stopped making music.

Daryl Hall created a do-it-yourself television show from his house, which features intimate, personal and unexpected performances. And as much as Hall has become ensconced in that cozy, bucolic environment, John Oates has been wandering in the great outdoors, getting back in touch with the music that first imprinted his soul. From folk, to folk blues, Delta blues, southern soul – Oates has become a musical archaeologist of sorts, digging deep into fertile musical soil to rediscover what turned him on in the first place.

But he’s never merely paid homages to traditional American music. Rather, he’s charged it with his own spark of invention, marrying modern elements of his own deft touch to all of the ghosts and echoes still resonating from the sacred musical ground he mines.

album-good-road-to-follow1His most recent release, Good Road to Follow is a sparkling example of what happens when a passionate troubadour in search of his muse discovers what seems like everything he was looking for in the first place, and then some. The three-CD set began as a series of digital singles. But as each song was released and listeners clamored for more, Oates realized that he had inadvertently presented himself with an enviable challenge: to flesh out a full concept CD that would allow the listener to experience a triad of rich and satisfying musical journeys.

To that point, each CD is subtitled Route One, Route Two and Route Three. Each “route” has its own flavor and sense of discovery due in part to a series of compelling collaborations that Oates initiated.

There is OneRepublic‘s Ryan Tedder, vamping with Oates on the contemporary blues tune, “Stone Cold Love.” Another bluesy gem called “Don’t Cross Me Wrong” features Vince Gill, and sprinkled throughout the rest of the collection are other notable contributors including Bekka Bramlett, Dan Dugmore and Jerry Douglas.

That he spends so much time in Nashville these days is beautifully evident in many of the selections, which are tinged with the tang of tasty Southern air. Others brim with a moodier blend of smoky soul. It’s all good.

One particular standout is “Pushing a Rock Uphill,” which Oates wrote with Nathan Paul Chapman. Oates’ lilting, impassioned vocal reminds the listener that even though Daryl Hall sang lead on many of the duo’s hits, Oates’ voice is itself a marvelous instrument capable of evoking deep emotion, texture and vulnerability.

With each track, you get a full, complete and separate sense of environment than the songs before and after. This adds to the adventure and sense of the musical journey because like any good road trip, it’s always rewarding to stumble into some surprise around the next bend, and to savor the unexpected.

Good Road to Follow is a substantial artistic achievement for John Oates, beyond simply reminding the public that he is an exceptional pop craftsman. And it solidifies the notion that, for John Oates, the musical journey has never stopped evolving and will no doubt continue to log more miles, across deep green river deltas, dusty back roads and desert highways disappearing into twilit horizons.

For those of us that relish music as an escape, Good Road to Follow is a sumptuous, engaging soundtrack that certainly satisfies for the moment. But it also piques our curiosity about what destinations may be next for John Oates along his ever-expanding musical highway.





Photo by © 2013 Jua

n Patino

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