It’s time to consider one more gap between collegiate cliques officially bridged. The tie-dyed set and the white-baseball-capped frat boys—whose only previous meetings where fights in the parking lot of Dave Matthews Band concerts—can now bob their heads and tap their toes in unison to the beats of O.A.R. Shorthand for “Of a Revolution”, O.A.R.‘s latest, In Between Now and Then is the kind of feel-good, upbeat, blare-it-at-the-barbecue album that can unite disparate collegiate factions. And if you’re not in college, just imagine how you expect college kids to act at a party, and you’ll be pretty close to the truth.
O.A.R.—drummer Chris Culos, bassist Benj Gershman, guitarist Richard On, saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, and singer/guitarist Marc Roberge—knows what will get the party swinging; album opener “Dareh Meyod” is a friendly reggae jam, with a huge bass line from Gershman and two (two!) DePizzo saxophone solos. They may lack any true reggae cred—the quintet formed as an Ohio State frat house band—but their hearts are in the right place and hey, their album cover features the horizontal green/yellow/red bars, color signifier of all things reggae. Besides the faux-Marley reggae, O.A.R. proudly flaunts their Dave Matthews (at least Matthews’s non-melancholy side) and Widespread Panic influences with the funky, saxophone-tinged arrangements and the long, jammy songs, respectively. Every song is a slight variation to that formula, whether it’s slower (“Mr. Moon”), acoustic-in-parts (“Hey Girl”) or vaguely spiritual (the epic closer, “Whose Chariot”).
With the band’s emphasis on creating a soundtrack to summer fun, O.A.R.‘s lyrics often get lost in the shuffle. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Roberge is often guilty of drifting into ponderousness. I have no problem with spiritual lyrics or upbeat messages, but in my travels I’ve come across a few too many people who consider listening to bands with religious undertones (Creed, I’m looking in your direction) the equivalent of church attendance. So let’s just say when Roberge sings a line like “You may not appear / But I’m standing here my God / I’ll never ask you / ‘Where have you been?’”, on “Right on Time” I tend to tune out, at the expense of missing On’s guitar and DePizzo’s saxophone. Ditto for “Any Time Now” and “Whose Chariot”. But that’s just one man’s opinion; maybe quasi-spiritual songs are what your party needs.
There’s plenty of non-spiritual tunes too. The jangly opposites-attract charmer “Hey Girl” captures the giddy thrill of meeting someone new (though speaking of “new”, some O.A.R. fans will carp over this song’s inclusion on In Between Now and Then; it’s now appeared on four of the band’s five releases), though Roberge’s insistence that “If I cannot have you / I just don’t want to live” comes on a little too strong. Nothing kills a party faster than a stalker, dude. “Anyway” is an ode to the power of music—“Something always comes from the music anyway / Came into my life / Ripped the blues away”—and it features yet another friendly sax solo from DePizzo, who is clearly the band’s secret weapon. I’d carp about the 13 songs’ average four-and-a-half minute lengths, but I enjoy the solos—from every band member—that fill up the songs. Besides, playing solos is what a band that sounds like Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic is supposed to do.
But finishing this thought on lyrics: Who is the intended audience for “Coalminer”, where the titular character abandons the young narrator and his (the narrator’s) mother in Rock Springs, Wyoming? Uncle Tupelo’s March 16-20, 1992 it ain’t. And surely “Road outside Columbus” is the world’s only reggae-inflected tune about Ohio’s capital. These aberrations (and previously discussed personal bias) aside, the upbeat lyrics and infectious sing along melodies mesh perfectly.
It’s also worth mentioning the limited-edition of In Between Now and Then features a bonus-DVD that contains a mini-documentary and three live songs performed at Irving Plaza in New York City that reveals the O.A.R. phenomenon thusly: Five genial guys playing fun music for a roomful of white 18- to 22-year-olds. Best of the bunch is crowd fave “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker”, a version of which simply will not end. Let the party begin!