'06 was a big year for O.A.R (Of A Revolution). They sold out New York City's Madison Square Garden (18,000 fans). Videos for "Love and Memories" and "Lay Down" were featured on VH1 and MTV. They performed at Major League Baseball's All-Star festivities in Pittsburgh during All-Star Sunday. Then in September returned to NY to play at a benefit for Darfur in Central Park. And just to round out the year on an up note, O.A.R. received an MTV "Woodie" award for "Lay Down."
'07 may not have been as impressive but a few good things happened. O.A.R. returned to the Garden to wrap up their tour (a DVD/Double CD "Live From Madison Square Garden" was released later in the year). The songs "Wonderful Day" and "One Shot" were used by ESPN during its coverage of the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament and College World Series. That was followed by a USO tour of the Persian Gulf.
The next year Ford picked "Wonderful Day" for a commercial. Continuing the ESPN relationship "This Town," from "All Sides," was heard during the '08 NCAA Baseball Tournament and C.W.S.
O.A.R's '08 All Sides tour started at Bonnaroo (in Manchester, TN). The album of the same name arrived a month later. The lead single, "Shattered (Turn The Car Around)," landed in VH1's list of the Top 20 videos of '08.
All this activity was the result of efforts that began over a decade earlier. Ohio State University is known for football - probably above all else. It's certainly not a breeding ground for Rock bands. In '96, O.A.R. formed in Maryland and stayed intact as members moved to Columbus.
Due to a combination of talent and likely a serious lack of competition, O.A.R. nailed the frat and sorority circuit on their way to building a sizable fan base. After only a year together, O.A.R. released their debut "The Wanderer ('97)" even though they didn't have a label deal - online distribution made it a college fav.
O.A.R. issued "Souls Aflame" three years later. "Risen" ('01) continued their strong online sales. That activity brought them to the attention of Lava Records who released "In Between Now And Then" ('03) and "Stories Of A Stranger" ('05). The latter peaked at #40 on the Billboard Top 200 making it the group's best charting effort to date. The single "Love And Memories" peaked at #30 on Modern Rock tracks.
"Stories Of A Stranger" sparked a bit of controversy. Shorter songs and more mainstream arrangements didn't please core fans. But later in the year, O.A.R. announced that they had sold over one million albums during their career. Much of that success they attributed to their implementation of the Grateful Dead's business model - allowing the taping, trading and downloading of live shows. That naturally got them tagged as a "jam band." They also had "official" live albums - "Any Time Now," ('02), "34th & 8th" ('04), the aforementioned "Live From Madison Square Garden" ('07) and "Rain Or Shine" ('10).
O.A.R.'s sixth studio album, "All Sides," dropped in '08. The first single, "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)," peaked at #2 on the Adult Top 40 and VH1 placed video at #18 on their Top 40 Videos of 2008. Their next studio effort, "King," dropped three years later.
1997 The Wanderer
2000 Soul's Aflame
2003 In Between Now And Then
2005 Stories Of A Stranger
2008 All Sides
2002 Any Time Now
2004 34th & 8th
2007 Live From Madison Square Garden
2010 Rain Or Shine
O.A.R. are the Dave Matthews Band Lite, both in the studio and onstage. Like DMB, O.A.R. blends Folk, Pop, World Beat and Reggae in midtempo songs. Add to the mix intelligent lyrics with occasional 'heart on the sleeve" moments. On more recent albums they have tempered, but not eliminated, their eclectic tendencies. That still provides plenty of room to roam.
Looking for a feel good song? Check out "Taking On The World," a funky tune on O.A.R.'s "King." It's the highlight of the album. Other notable tracks include the DMB inspired "Dangerous Connection" and the big emotional ballad "Heaven" ("Don't want to go to heaven if I can't get in"). Don't overlook the instrumental interludes.
"All Sides" with a large number of acoustic tracks that rarely rise above a moderate tempo is just the thing for 'quality rock' radio stations and precious retailers (Starbucks). But what saves O.A.R. from being this week's flavor is a reasonably good ear for melody.
The album received generally negative reviews (Rolling Stone called the effort "a poor man's Goo Goo Dolls"). Granted, the band barely breaks a sweat but there's a low key appeal. "Shattered (Turn The Car Around)" is one of the stronger songs and little wonder it was a chart success. In a way, that's part of the problem, at least for critics. In an obvious effort to expand their audience, the album leans toward pop, more than previous sets. Tricky thing that. It can also cost the existing fans.
"Shattered (Turn The Car Around)" features Roberge's intimate vocals with a solid rhythm underneath. The Reggae influenced "What Is Mine" has a warmth that is a regular component of O.A.R. albums. However, this set is eclipsed by its predecessor "Stories Of A Stranger." "Love And Memories" is a great basic, no frills Rock N' Roll tune while "Lay Down" takes an appealing cut at pop-Reggae. Of course, they complain about the lack of airplay just when they finally get some on "Program Director." It's a song about PDs not adding songs until they're told to do so by corporate. So what? Didn't O.A.R.'s online marketing go right around that?
"In Between Now & Then" is more of the same only it came first.
On stage O.A.R., like countless groups with jam band tendencies, use their songs as a jumping off point.