John Oates

Mississippi Mile

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For his third solo album, John Oates decided to pay tribute to the blues and R&B that originated in the Mississippi Delta, taking considerable liberty in his definition of the Delta by letting it encompass Chuck Berry’s rock & roll, the Coasters’ jiving cool, the Impressions' slick uptown groove, and Percy Mayfield’s smoky late-night balladry. Only sticklers will gripe about Oates bending the borders of the blues because history has shown that he’s never been a purist; he’s always fused different sounds and styles, which is precisely what he does here, grounding himself in an easy-rolling bluesy roots music that can encompass all manner of R&B, from a reworking of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” to a dynamic reinterpretation of Oates’ own “You Make My Dreams Come True.” It’s a setting far more stripped-down than he’s usually performed within -- lots of acoustic guitars, Dobros, and mandolins -- and the band locks into its rhythm with ease. Plus, there’s actually a bit of sandpaper grit to Oates’ voice -- maybe not enough to make this a down-and-dirty hoedown, but enough to give it soulfulness, enough to keep it from grooving a little too smoothly. Parts of Mississippi Mile hark back to Oates’ folky beginnings -- Hall & Oates covered “Deep River Blues” early on and he reworks the song here -- but it’s a unique record in his career, not just in how it puts an emphasis on blues and folk over soul but how it captures him performing with a relaxed authority that’s quite appealing.

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