John Oates

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Arkansas Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Lost amidst all of the big hits he had with Daryl Hall is the fact that John Oates started his career as a folkie. Oates hasn't forgotten this fact and has sometimes returned to the sound in his solo work, but he's never devoted an entire album to the kind of folk that was popular in '60s coffeehouses until 2018's Arkansas. Working with an exceptional cast of players including mandolinist Sam Bush and guitarist Guthrie Trapp, Oates concentrates on the music coming out of the Mississippi Delta, dabbling in the blues, bluegrass, and ragtime, but generally rooting himself in earnest folk that isn't far removed from the softer moments on Whole Oats. What keeps Arkansas from being a throwback is both Oates' focus -- this coheres musically and thematically in a way his solo records often don't -- and how his light, relaxed touch is mirrored by his group of pros. The entire affair is so casual and nimble, it's easy to take its sly eclecticism for granted, but that's also the charm of Arkansas: it's a warm, inviting affair that doesn't demand attention but nevertheless rewards it.

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