John Oates’ new album, “Mississippi Mile,” may sound like a departure from the upbeat pop rock and soul he’s famous for with Daryl Hall, and it is. But for Oates, “departure” isn’t quite the right word; he’s been carrying this music around inside since long before Hall & Oates got off the ground.

John Oates’ new album, “Mississippi Mile,” may sound like a departure from the upbeat pop rock and soul he’s famous for with Daryl Hall, and it is. But for Oates, “departure” isn’t quite the right word; he’s been carrying this music around inside since long before Hall & Oates got off the ground.


“People come for something different and that’s what they get,” Oates said in a recent interview. “The response to the newer material has been overwhelming. People will tell me, ‘I love the blues. Play more blues.’ So I’ve been getting reinforced as I gradually sneak these new songs in.”


“Mile” is a chronicle. While it does contain a handful of originals, its showpiece songs are covers – interpretations, really, of everything from the Coasters, Doc Watson and Curtis Mayfield to Mississippi John Hurt and Chuck Berry.


To hear Oates tell it, they came from a place that’s part admiration and homage and part personal history.


“I didn’t even know I was going to make an album, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I started fooling around with some of the songs I liked as a kid – artists who meant something to me and the guitar playing and singing I emulated when I was a little kid. It’s really kind of a musical autobiography. Most people think my life began with Hall & Oates, but I was playing guitar for the better part of 14 years before that.”


It isn’t necessarily new territory for Oates, either. His last solo release, “1000 Miles of Life,” also tended toward heartfelt Americana, and he’s been flavoring his solo shows with blues, folk, country and R&B for years.


But “Mississippi Mile” – named, Oates said, because “all these songs somehow have their roots in the Mississippi Delta” – is a bit more fun and freewheeling than previous efforts. Perhaps richest among the covers is a version of Berry’s “Let It Rock” that puts a fresh spin on an oft-covered song without making it a full-on reinvention.


“I tried to get to the real, seminal, important songs,” he said. “The artists are more important than the songs themselves. I love to hear original interpretations, but I don’t like when people change the essence of a song. I was very conscious of that when I approached this material. If I were sitting in a room with Chuck Berry, I don’t want him to say, ‘Why’d you mess with my song?’ I’d want, ‘That’s a cool version of my song.’”


“Mile” is also a bit rawer-sounding than previous Oates solo albums – something, he said, he was “conscious of preserving.”


“I’ve never made a record like this, and it’s gotten the best critical reaction I’ve ever done,” he said. “My favorite albums are the ones where the spirit of the players comes through, and I think we have that.”


Does ongoing adoration of Hall & Oates, especially by younger generations, surprise him?


“It was at first when it started happening, but it’s how it goes. That’s how pop music should be,” he said. “Both Daryl and I have been integrating new generations of musicians in and we’ve been working in different genres and expanding into other fan bases. New musicians discover us, and the sum total is that.”


In addition to working with different types of musicians, Oates has also burnished a reputation as a frequent sit-in guest, and not just for older generation friends like the Meters and Tab Benoit, but also, in recent months, with jambands like moe. and Umphrey’s McGee during shows in Aspen. (Oates said he’ll be joining Umphrey’s again during their set at the upcoming Mountain Jam festival in Hunter, N.Y., June 2-5.)


“It’s a freeing thing for me as a musician. Every time I play with another band, I learn how they think and how they put their shows together,” he said. “I get a lot out of that, and it frees me up to just be a player and not be responsible for a whole she-bang. I love it. It’s improved my playing.”


The Patriot Ledger