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O.A.R. moves into mainstream with new album

Observer Scene | Thursday, October 27, 2005

O.A.R., short for “Of A Revolution,” has held the attention of college students nation wide since the late 1990s, but with the release of “Stories of a Stranger,” they are bringing a new vibe to their music, which is sure to make an impression on new listeners. This is the band’s seventh album, but only their fifth produced in studio, since it was only a couple of years ago that they moved from Atlantic Records to Lava Records.

Perhaps their largest introduction to the college scene came from the popularity of the “Any Time Now” two-disc CD that has been playing at Hollister and Co. stores across the country. Now, bringing their longtime followers along with them, the group will delve into the mainstream with “Stories of a Stranger.”

The new album shifts away from O.A.R.’s typically sporadic, reggae-like jam sessions to a more organized mix of pop/rock alternative, which might just prove to be a perfect fit. For long-time O.A.R. fans, the reaction to the latest album may come as a bit of a shock, and possibly even initial disappointment. “Stories of a Stranger” reflects a new maturity that the band was bound to take on the road to expanding their audience. While the group has been gaining limited popularity over the years, the release of this new album gives them the opportunity to introduce their music to a much larger group of casual alternative listeners.

If a listener likes one song on the new CD, they will probably like them all. There really is not one bad song on the disc. The new album allows every member to shine in a way that has not been heard before.

At the album’s start, it is obvious that the group has strengthened and honed their sound for the ultimate acoustic experience. Bassist Benj Gershman and drummer Chris Culos deliver head bobbing beats while guitar parts from Richard On and the always sexy sound of Jerry DiPizzo’s saxophone put Marc Roberge’s vocals to speed. Together, their soulful melodies and sultry rhythms extend through every track on the CD.

And if its lyrics the listener wants to enjoy, theirs are top quality. While their old songs drew more along the theme of random college life, these new songs are more applicable to life in general. It is obvious that Roberge is transitioning his songs to more focused lyrics that should appeal to more relaxed radio listeners, rather than former college jam crowds. It is all for the better as the group matures without putting a damper on the young creativity which gave them their start.

“Heard the World,” “Love and Memories” and “Daylight the Dog” represent the group’s new curiosity. They are full of guitar and hungry lyrics more reminiscent of pop alternative radio hits. “The Stranger,” a quieter song with light hearted lyrics and female back up vocals, is the furthest song from traditional O.A.R., coming off a little cheesy at first.

“One Shot” and “Program Director” reflect their steadfast commitment to lighthearted reggae. Loyal O.A.R. fans will definitely enjoy “Wonderful Day” and “Lay Down” the most, as they stray the furthest from their originally upbeat island-like style and are easily the best tracks on the entire album.

While “Stories of a Stranger” may not be quite what is expected from O.A.R.’s former “island vibe roots rock,” it is still the best album they have put out so far. Expect to hear a lot more from this group, as they will surely be moving their way into the mainstream this year.