John Oates is having a full-circle moment after leveraging a canny mix of new-wave soul to reach multi-platinum heights with Daryl Hall in the '80s. His sixth solo album is titled Reunion, but if anything it's a homecoming with Oates' former self. This is the John Oates from before Hall and Oates, the one who wrote two songs and co-wrote four others on 1972's jangly Whole Oats. You may associate him with flashy MTV videos, but the first things we heard from Oates featured pedal steel. His similarly rootsy turn as a solo artist has echoes in the past.

A move to Nashville in the 2000s drew Oates closer to those fertile sounds. He began to pull away from Hall, at least musically, with 2011's blues-tinged Mississippi Mile. Oates has occasionally touched on their signature style in the years that followed, highlighted by the sleek grooves of "Pushing a Rock Uphill" from 2014's Good Road to Follow. But albums like 2018's Arkansas more often have drawn a direct line to something further back. It's perhaps no surprise, then, that his next album arrives as Oates splits from a musical partnership that made him a household name while also locking him into a time and place he's been eager to leave.

Oates is still a collaborator of the first degree, easily slipping into new musical conversations with picky aces like Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Sam Bush. He found an occasional new songwriting partner in A.J. Croce, crafting the deeply moving title track. John Prine became something of a presence along the way. Oates offers a quietly confidential cover of Prine's "Long Monday," teasing out a sense of acceptance amid the reverie. He and Croce met when they shared a dressing room at a tribute to Prine held at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Yet Reunion feels authentically Oates' own, a statement of Americana purpose and individual vision that consolidates everything from the last decade and a half of solo explorations.

It's tempting, of course, to reframe this album's themes within the context of Hall and Oates' rough landing. "Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee" is named after a pair of Piedmont blues masters whose partnership forever linked them. "This Field is Mine" is marked by a devastating sense of loss. "All I Ask of You" considers a legacy left behind. The thing is actually named Reunion. But Oates is working with a bigger brush here, finding honesty, hope and motivation in pushing back against the weight of expectations and the forces of age.

That would likely be remarkable in any era, but most especially in this one. Reunion stays true to John Oates' pre-fame musical dreams when most legacy hitmakers are content to work as human jukeboxes, playing the same old favorites night after night so they can keep cashing the checks. His is a road less traveled, and one that will never lead back to the chart-topping successes of '80s-era songs Oates co-wrote like "Out of Touch," "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and "Maneater." But there's a lot more interesting scenery.

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