CD Review of 1000 Miles of Life by John Oates
Recommended if you like
Hall & Oates, Little Feat, James Taylor
Label
PS Records
John Oates:
1000 Miles of Life

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
o some people, John Oates will always be nothing more than the mustachioed vestigial tail attached to Daryl Hall throughout the ‘80s – a guy whose discernible contributions were next to nil, and who deserves to be lumped in alongside Andre w Ridgeley and Art Garfunkel on the list of great coattail riders in rock & roll history.

These people have clearly never listened to any of the solo albums Daryl Hall has released since 1986, or the one mostly wretched, largely Oates-less collection of new material that the duo has issued in the new millennium – because if they had, they’d understand just how much John Oates brought to those hits you know by heart. He’s long been eclipsed by Hall’s incredible voice, prolific songwriting output, and barn-sized ego, but Oates is no Ridgeley – and as proof, here’s his second solo album in 36 years, 1000 Miles of Life.

Just to be perfectly fair, it isn’t just Hall that has kept Oates from being recognized as a musical talent in his own right. Oates has long seemed content to contribute his handful of co-writes and lead vocal appearances to his albums with Hall, and spend the rest of his time mountain biking or counting his money; it’s probably this low-key demeanor that has largely contributed to the duo’s persistence. It’s also what makes 1000 Miles of Life such a pleasant, modestly charming surprise.

1000 Miles follows up Oates’ solo debut, 2002’s Phunk Shui, which was about as much fun as its terrible title; the songs were fine, if mostly unmemorable, but the record’s real problem is that Oates pinned it under thick layers of unnecessarily glossy production. This time out, Oates instead opted to head for Nashville, and hooked up with an assortment of impressive names, including Bela Fleck, Steve Cropper, Bonnie Bramlett, Jerry Douglas, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. (John Popper also shows up to deliver a harmonica solo, but we’ll just assume he snuck in when Oates wasn’t looking.) The result is a stripped-down, mostly laid-back collection of acoustic-based numbers, all topped off by Oates’ soulful, pleasantly weathered vocals.

The songs, for the most part, are just okay; Oates is a fine songwriter, but he doesn’t have his more famous partner’s way with a killer hook. Of the 11 tracks, eight are new originals, with covers of Jerry Lynn Williams’ “Sending Me Angels” and Daniel Lanois’ “Sometimes” thrown in, along with a totally pointless re-recording of the title track to Hall & Oates’ 1990 Change of Season album. The new material has its bright spots – including the up-tempo title track and “Carved in Stone,” which both boast typically solid vocals from Bramlett – but it also includes its share of clunkers, most notably “Ravens,” which finds Oates crooning “Where have all the bluebirds gone?” in falsetto.

In the end, it probably won’t win Oates any new fans, but that clearly isn’t the point for him; from the deliberate lack of flash in the arrangements to the tossed-off cover artwork, which looks like the product of an ambitious sixth-grader with a brand new copy of Photoshop Elements, 1000 Miles of Life has the feel of a project undertaken strictly for love. In the album’s press materials, Oates calls it the high point of his recording career, and although that’s probably a bit of a stretch, it’s easily the best thing to come out of the Hall & Oates camp in almost 20 years. Let’s see Garfunkel or Ridgeley try to top that.

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