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John Oates - Arkansas

  by Cila Warncke

published: 15 / 4 / 2018

John Oates - Arkansas
Label: PS Records
Format: CD


Sincere and heartfelt blues/folk tribute on collection of original and cover songs from John Oates, who attempts to disprove that there are no second acts in American lives

With 'Arkansas', John Oates sets out to disprove F. Scott Fitzgerald's assertion that there are no second acts in American lives. As half of big-in-the-80s duo Hall & Oates, he was partly to blame for school disco classics like 'Maneater' and Top Gun super-cut 'You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling'. But Oates has moved bravely on. 'Arkansas' is not built to appeal to the Hall & Oates fan base of nostalgic middle-aged mums. It will elicit no sighs of recognition from Golden Oldies listeners - unless they are prepared to hark back to the 1924 Emmett Miller hit 'Anytime' which opens the album, or the 1932 Jimmie Rodgers' number 'Miss the Mississippi and You'. This is, says Oates, "the album I've always wanted to make," and it rings with the conviction of sincere musical appreciation. Backed by the impeccable playing of the Good Road Band (think mandolin and pedal steel and cello alongside the conventional rock tools of electric guitar, bass and percussion) this is a heartfelt homage to roots music that adds another chapter to the story. Oates's covers of traditional tunes include 'Pallet Soft and Low', which counts among its previous interpreters Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson and Gillian Welch; 'Stack O Lee', classic murder ballad given one of its most memorable forms by Mississippi John Hurt; and 'Spike Driver Blues', a take on Hurt's take on the legend of John Henry. His voice has matured and he brings fine tone and appealing roughness to these slices of vintage Americana. His courage, however, perhaps outstrips his chops when it comes to handling songs that belong to blues greats. Where he shines is on his own compositions, 'Dig Back Deep' and the title track. The former is a bluegrass boogie that would get hands clapping and hips swaying in a road-house on a Saturday night, or at a summer jam on the banks of some unnamed middle-American river. 'Arkansas' is a charming blues-meets-gospel-meets-soft-rock cut that sounds authentic in a way the covers don't. It is easy listening (maybe too easy) and its evocation of the "snow-white cotton fields of Arkansas" doesn't sit comfortably on a historical level, but it cosies up to the ear with the irrepressible surety of good intentions. 'Arkansas' is no second life, but it is more than a retread, for which Oates should be applauded.

Track Listing:-
1 Anytime
2 Arkansas
3 My Creole Belle
4 Pallet Soft and Low
5 Miss the Mississippi and You
6 Stack O Lee
7 That'll Never Happen No More
8 Dig Back Deep
9 Lord Send Me
10 Spike Driver Blues

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