John Oates – Good Road to Follow (2014)

John Oates wrote or co-wrote some 82 songs between 1972-2003 as part of Hall and Oates, including the No. 1 hits “I Can’t Go For That” and “Out of Touch.” So, really, it’s easy to understand his interest in mixing it up with some new collaborators. At the same time, he rarely voiced Hall and Oates’ biggest hits — leading some to question, wrong headedly, how much of a role Oates actually played in the partnership.

The Good Road to Follow triple-EP set, due March 18, 2014 via PS Records-Elektra, speaks to both things. First, and perhaps most dramatically, it showcases Oates’ ability to write with feeling, force and humor on a broad range of topics, and across an even broader range of styles. And second, yeah, there are tons of different writing, producing and playing partners here.

He started this project as a series of stand-alone singles, only deciding later to collect them across three genre-specific discs — the first devoted to rock and pop, the second with a country-focused feel and the third powered along by rootsy blues-soaked numbers.

“Stone Cold Love,” written with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, opens the set with a modern electro-blues crunch straight out of the Black Keys, while the subsequent “Head That Wears the Crown” and “Pushing a Rock Uphill” — one a sleek combination of classic R&B with a darker rock menace, the other a moment of sweet soul release — could have been outtakes from any of Hall and Oates’ platinum-era platters.

And so it goes, as Oates both illustrates what he brought to that Hall of Fame duo and then breaks apart every stereotype that ever grew up around them. Bekka Bramlett, also part of Oates’ terrific Mississippi Mile album, joins in for “Believe in Me,” a gritty Southern rock-inflected outburst. Hot Chelle Rae throw even more sunlight into the confectionary “High Maintenance.”

And Oates, having brought us to the end of Route 1, is just getting started: Still to come on Route 2 are “Close,” a sensual rootsy rocker, and the darkly ominous “Six Men,” both composed with Jim Lauderdale; the country-inflected anthem “Stand Strong” and the uplifting lover’s prayer “Save Me,” co-written by Teddy Morgan. “Lose It in Louisiana,” a fiddle-driven front-porch rumination, is sandwiched in between.

Route 3 begins with the dusty-booted, deeply evocative “Don’t Cross Me Wrong,” a shared moment with Vince Gill, followed by the hooky “Bad Bad Love” — a song so swampy you can hear the mud oozing up over its axles. “Edge of the World,” done with Mississippi Mile collaborator Mike Henderson, explores a twilit sense of worry that’s sure to be familiar to anyone who wore out their copy of “Possession Obsession.”

Oates then closes out Good Road to Follow with the winking salaciousness of “Bad Luck and Trouble,” a throwback to an even earlier Hall and Oates sound circa “Las Vegas Turnaround,” followed by a final turn with Lauderdale on the gruff “Different Kind of Groove Sometime” — which, come to think of it, would have made a great alternate title to this collection of wildly diverse, endlessly involving songcraft. You’ll never think of John Oates the same way again.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.