Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Oates could very easily have coasted out the remainder of his career touring with musical partner Daryl Hall and their multi-platinum band Hall & Oates and done just fine. He could have released a few safe albums of solo material in the same soulful pop vein as Hall & Oates to fill gaps between tours. But Oates remains a musical risk taker, a fact driven home by the release of his new album "Good Road to Follow", releasing Mar. 18.
"Good Road to Follow" isn't really an album so much as a collection of Oates' work over the past year. For the past year, Oates has been experimenting with how music is released with a series of monthly digital downloads of new material. In an interview last year, Oates said his idea was to approach the Itunes and Spotify custom playlist generation by going back to his generation and releasing what is the digital equivalent of a 45 single. "When I was a kid, maybe like yourself, singles were everything. I'd save up my money and go to the little store in my town and buy a 45 and I'd bring it home and play it until the grooves wore out. And that's kind of come around again, it's come full circle."
This kind of "one at a time" distribution method freed Oates from worrying about the cohesiveness of an album and allowed him to follow whatever road interested him. And his interests are admirably varied. "Good Road to Follow" is organized into three 5 song EP of loosely related material.
Route 1 sees Oates experimenting with the past, present, and future of pop music. The album's lead single, "Stone Cold Love", was written and performed with OneRepublic front man Ryan Tedder. He also works with Nashville based pop group Hot Chelle Rae, Taylor Swift producer Nathan Chapman, vocalists Bekka Bramlett and Wendy Moten, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Jerry Douglas. This EP is the biggest risk for Oates but he pulls it off admirably.
Route 2 takes Oates on a trip to New Orleans to explore the rich musical heritage of the deep South. This EP is where Oates shines most, working with Americana superstar Jim Lauderdale on two songs, including the album's standout track "Six Men." Another winning track is the smooth soul feel of "Lose It in Louisiana", co-written by drummer Chad Gilmore and produced by country songwriting heavyweight Craig Wiseman.
Route 3 brings Oates back home, to the Americana music scene where much of his solo work has dwelled in the last decade. This EP kicks off with "Don't Cross Me Wrong", co-written and performed with country legend Vince Gill. Other songs on this EP find him working with Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin, The Bel-Airs' Mike Henderson, and again with Jim Lauderdale.
Such wide influences make for a bit of a scattershot album, but the grouping into three EP rather than putting all 15 songs on one CD helps with cohesion. But "Good Road to Follow" was never about cohesion so much as musical experimentation and one-off collaborations. To that end, Oates has been extremely successful. If you missed out on the year of singles that produced "Good Road to Follow", you owe it to yourself to get the CD or download the album. While some tracks work better than others, overall it's a refreshing turn to see a legend take such risks and to chase his collaborative muse wherever it goes without worry about his image.
Best Tracks: "Six Men", "High Maintenance", and "Lose It in Louisiana."