With John Oates of Hall and Oates fame, the worry might have been that his on-going Nashville residency would lead to a turn toward the soft commercialism of modern-day country music. Instead, he’s emerged with a hard-edged Americana romp.
“Stand Strong,” of course, follows a pair of genre exercises in 2011′s blues-based Mississippi Mile and then last year’s live set from the XM radio show “Bluesville.” Oates, as he told us in a rangy SER Sitdown, was revisiting some of the rootsy sounds that informed his musical youth before meeting up with Daryl Hall.
This track, though, is something else — something created not of memory, or (as with Oates’ bluesy takes on old Hall and Oates tracks like “You Make My Dreams”) in reaction to the legacy of rock-inflected soul gems he’d go on to create with Hall. This is Oates, well, feeling his oats. Sounding like a snarling country rocker, like nothing you might have guessed, working with a new collaborative voice in Teddy Morgan (best known these days for his contributions to the soundtrack for the “Hatfields and McCoys” miniseries), and probably shocking the hell out of his oldest, deepest fans.
This is the sound of someone forging new bonds, trying out new things — taking risks at a point when many of his vintage are content to settle into the oldies circuit’s virtual rocking chair.
At the same time, “Stand Strong” reconnects, if you listen closely enough, to those mustachioed moments of platinum-selling fame in the 1980s — with a cadence straight out of “Billie Jean,” which Michael Jackson in turn once said was inspired by a charttopper Oates co-wrote with Hall, “I Can’t Go For That.”
Even as he travels as far afield as he ever has since committing to a tandem solo career, Oates remains grounded in his past. It’s turning into a fascinating journey.