There’s something charming about the way John Oates’ gravelly rasp makes it sound like his larynx might bust through his throat at any minute.
The quieter half of Hall and Oates makes plenty of noise on Arkansas, his new LP with the Good Road Band, which includes mandolin maestro Sam Bush, pedal steeler Russ Pahl, axeman Guthrie Trapp plus cellist Max Smith and the rhythm section of drummer Josh Day and bassist Steve Mackey.
Oates’ voice is disarming in its frailty as he stomps through the swampy muck like Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home-era Taj Mahal on Mississippi John Hurt’s “Stack O Lee,” limps his way through a call-and-response, campfire rendition of Hurt’s “My Creole Belle” and struggles to hit high notes on the country-pop title track, one of two originals on the taut, 10-track, half-hour record.
It’s a short tour through Americana’s finest as Oates and company do a subdued country waltz on Jimmie Rodgers’ “Miss the Mississippi and You,” embody Little Feat’s self-described country with a boogie beat on Hurt’s “Pallet Soft and Low,” channel the Carolina Chocolate Drops on Blind Blake’s “That’ll Never Happen No More” and meld the acoustic sides of Jorma Kaukonen and Jerry Garcia on “Spike Driver Blues,” yet another composition courtesy of Hurt.
Some Hall and Oates fans may not be drawn to Arkansas and Oates’ alluring, imperfect singing therein. But folks who’ve followed Oates’ moonlighting actives over the past decade or so will quickly realize the boy’s done found the mark this time out.