In rotation: John Oates' 'Mississippi Mile'
A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers & contributors are listening to right now...
There’s often more than a whiff of desperation about “back to the roots” outings by pop musicians, especially those who are well past their commercial prime. But New York City-born John Oates’ exploration of Southern blues, R&B and soul is a pleasant surprise in many ways: heartfelt, relatively modest in scope and consequently more rewarding than might be expected, especially for those of us who were never terribly taken by the lightweight blue-eyed soul he and partner Daryl Hall kept at the top of the pop charts from the mid-’70s through most of the 1980s.
Oates brings a good measure of honest grit to his reworkings of such rock-era standards as Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” and Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions-era hit “It’s All Right.” He also has written a pair of originals, the title tune and “Deep River,” that emanate a real empathy for the richness of music of and surrounding the culturally fertile Mississippi Delta.
It also helps that he’s surrounded himself with people who are immersed in this tradition, from the album’s co-producer, Mike Henderson, to players including dobro master Jerry Douglas, mandolin wiz Sam Bush and blues-steeped singer Bekka Bramlett. By the time he gets around to a swinging back-porch remake of Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” much, if not all from the Hall & Oates era, is forgiven.