O.A.R. – King (2011)

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Music

By Jason Franklin / Guest Reviewer

As a fan of both this blog and the band Of A Revolution I was humbled when I was tapped to review their latest release King. O.A.R. opened for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during the Mile High Music Festival back in ’08. This was my first experience, which was to say the least, enough to make me buy every record I could get my hands on for the next month. These guys are hip, insightful, and different. There is no blazing guitar riffs, instead smooth sax solos. No cookie cutter vibe, just a blend of the influences of blues, and reggae blended together for something we don’t hear much of these days…uniqueness. Immediately I saw a difference between the live records (and concert) and their studio work. This may or may not be a bad thing but it still is…well…a thing.

From Rockville, MD they released their first album in ’97. This is before their college years at Ohio State University. At OSU they really found their sound. Infusing jam rhythms with reggae and feel-good songs they carved out a nice little niche. Now here, a year before the world ends in 2012, the band has reached an interesting crossroads. 2008’s All Sides proved to be they’re largest commercial success breeding the hit “Shattered (Turn This Car Around)” which was the bands first platinum single. The record hit #13 on Billboard and they followed that momentum with the kick ass, 4 CD, live music collection Rain or Shine. These guys have worked hard and put themselves in a great situation to do something amazing with 2011’s King BUT, as they say here at the Nutwork, it isn’t about what you’ve done, but what you are doing.

King was an odd title for a record. My Dad always says that if you give yourself a nickname…it doesn’t count. With this title it sounded like the band was trying to do exactly that. This was reinforced with the title track and the opening to the album. “King” never commits to a particular direction. Maybe that is why the rest of the album feels the same way. Granted, these guys have made a living blending different genres without ever sailing too far from their own island…and this formula has worked well. Unfortunately, to those of us like myself it sounds like a great cover of the band you are actually wanting to here. O.A.R. still have this amazing record breathing right under the surface of good albums.

But it is good though. You would really have to try hard to not like this as a whole. Yes the first half seems like they are trying to rewrite the success of “Shattered,” but in that attempt they have some nice groove songs, “Not For Me,” “Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes,” “The Last Time,” all could find happy homes on soundtracks. Marc seems to have really embraced his range as a singer on this record as well. He doesn’t have the ability to belt power ballads, but he covers a lot of ground on these tracks.

Then the album takes the Morrison Exit to Red Rocks. When the radio DJs come on and talk about the local Thomas S. Wootten High School graduates the album gets exponentially better. “Gotta Live” finds the blend we have come to love from these guys. Seriously, roll the windows down skip to track 11, and just go for a drive. This is change your mood music. There is nothing wrong with that when it works this well. The sax, guitars, keys and Marc’s voice all just beg for a live audience. “Almost Easy” and “Over and Over” follow this momentum in two different ways. The first is another jam track that breaks with some of the repetitiveness of the first half of the record and the second is a classic piano and voice combo that brings a Billy Joel-esque feel to the record.

The album finishes as confusing as it starts. No big track…just some deliciously mellow songs where “Back to One” shines, probably because the band picks up the pace with this one. “Heavy Heart” continues to hold the standard they set with the record. Granted that standard could be a little higher for a 7th studio record but how many albums out there center two decent songs amidst 10 crappy ones, (cue 3 Doors Down). That simply isn’t the case here. After 20 songs there really isn’t one you can’t stand. All of them bring something to the music. And the finale, “Irish Rose” is an exact opposite of the opening. It’s heartfelt and celebrates the tradition of the singer/songwriter. The production that pops up on the record disappears completely and we see the band in its most honest light.

All the nuts and bolts aside. I’ve spent the better part of this weekend rocking out to King. It is a great example of why O.A.R. have sold 1.8 million records and 2 million concert tickets. Buy this record and learn a few songs so when they come to your town you can see what these guys can do. King certainly teases us with greatness, but comes up a hair short. Unfortunately, 20 songs were probably 5 or 6 too many. They dilute the better tracks and leave us a little hungry.

8/10

Tracklist:
01 – King
02 – Taking On The World Today
03 – Not For Me
04 – Heaven
05 – Are You Low
06 – Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes
07 – We Made It – Interlude 1
08 – The Last Time
09 – Fire
10 – Brand New – Interlude 2
11 – Gotta Live
12 – Dangerous Connection
13 – Wicked Storm – Interlude 3
14 – Almost Easy
15 – Over And Over
16 – Back To One
17 – World Like That (Bonus Track)
18 – Heavy Heart (Bonus Track)
19 – Give Me Something (Bonus Track)
20 – Irish Rose (Bonus Track)

http://www.amazon.com/King-Deluxe-r/dp/B005694YO8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1312761393&sr=8-2

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