(Original version published on Southern Senses 09/14/15)*
A man of great understanding and a singular wit, J. F. Oakes is a Mississippi-based independent singer/songwriter, best known for his work with Baton Rouge, Louisiana country/southern rockers The 484 South Band. After two albums and seven-ish touring years with the band, Oakes released his debut solo record Acknowledge The Corn in 2014. The album title itself gives us a glimpse into the mind of a knowledgeable, humorous “artiste,” as the phrase “acknowledge the corn” is an old expression meaning simply “admit your mistake.”
1. “Can’t Go Back”
The album opener is an uptempo country tune about “the good old days” and regrets of lost love. With toe-tapping, hand-clapping pace and a relatable theme, the track is easily one of the most “mainstream” songs on the record. One of the best segments of the track occurs at the end of the song when Oakes strings together versions of various colloquialisms and delivers a vocal performance which perfectly sum up both the feel and theme of the song:
They say that youth is wasted on the young
It’s just enough wisdom to get your own self hung
I thought the moon was hung on you
“Blame” is a dark, driving, blues-anchored duet with singer Abbey Graham. “Blame” was one of two tracks Oakes released via social media ahead of the record’s debut; therefore, I had a chance to catch the tune early. I was immediately struck by the pairing of the male/female vocalists singing about “bad love,” which, coupled with unique, driving guitar and bass riffs, makes this track inarguably one of the highlights of the album.
4. “Road Less Traveled”
Of all the songs on the album, “Road Less Traveled” seems like it most belongs on a record called Acknowledge the Corn—not because the song is a mistake that needs to be admitted, but because it is the track that best matches the quirkiness and folksy humor that the album title elicits. The track opens with Oakes delivering a half-grunt salutation before the music begins, and it’s all fun and toe-taps from there. I think Roger Miller would have been proud to have written this one.
6. “These Chains”
“These Chains” is an emotionally powerful, slow gospel/blues tune featuring a lamenting Oakes addressing God in search of spiritual freedom, while an appropriately “sadly-uplifting” organ takes center stage in the music. There is also a quick C to D to C slide throughout the song that adds a nice differentiation to the otherwise standard chord progression.
7. “Sweet Memories”
My favorite track is “Sweet Memories.” I would say this track is about my hometown, but I don’t technically have a hometown. A “home woods,” or “home pasture,” or “home zip code” maybe, but no “hometown” in the traditional since. Nevertheless, this song speaks of the county in which I was raised and the town nearest my home, Monticello, Mississippi—a place where Oakes has spent most of his life. Whether you’re from the area or not, this song has a broad universal appeal to all those who grew up in or near a small town in simpler times—an appeal which is only enhanced by the easy, Southern feel and major chord progression of the tune. The song is in some ways the antithesis of the opener “Can’t Go Back.” While “CGB” focusses on regrets for past mistakes and seems to long for a life “redo,” “Sweet Memories” celebrates all the experiences of youth and vows to cherish them.
8. “Before I Go”
“Before I Go” is another duet with singer Abbey Graham. Much like “Sweet Memories” is the opposite of “Can’t Go Back,” “Before I Go” stands in stark contrast to “Blame” as a peppy celebration of love with all its ups and downs.
12. “Burning Bridges”
The album-closing “Burning Bridges” sounds like the quirky younger brother to “These Chains,” and that isn’t a criticism. The stand-out element to me on this track is Oakes’s display of vocal chameleonism, as he appropriately and effectively changes his tone and phrasing from the first 11 tracks on the album. If I didn’t know Oakes as a performer, and someone had told me that Oakes brought in a guest vocalist for the track, I would have said, “Well, yeah, you can tell.” But that’s a testament to the vocal talent of Oakes, whom I know (from hearing him live) has many more stylings in his bag of vocal tricks.
Album Rating: 4/5
Genres: Southern, Country, Rock, Country/Rock, Southern Rock, Blues, Roots Rock, Americana, Folk
*In 2015, Cole Powell and bandmate/wife Brittany D launched Southern Senses, an online publication dedicated to showcasing the best music and cuisine from the Southern United States. With talented site contributors (including Southern rocker J. F. Oakes and restaurateur Christa Reid Neil), the site gained immediate success, attracting the attention of renowned restaurateur Robert St. John and retired NFL tight end Reggie Kelly, among others. Though Powell opted to discontinue the site in 2017, select articles can be found on the blog section of colepowell.net.
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