O.A.R. leapt to the majors in 2003 with In Between Now and Then, but the move didn't change their longstanding commitment to touring. The live show built their audience and crafted their sound; why would Atlantic's logo on their record change that? Ultimately, 2005's Stories of a Stranger doesn't change O.A.R.'s organic, homespun approach to pop, either. But it definitely refines it along the way, bringing the Maryland combo firmly into the adult alternative fold. Live, these songs will still have potential for jam band elasticity. But on Stories they're tightly wound, showing off Marc Roberge's dry vocal and urgent turns of melody. "Heard the World," "Daylight the Dog," and "Love and Memories" are full of guitar and yearning, like a less self-righteous Switchfoot or wordier Goo Goo Dolls. "Memories" in particular is a departure for O.A.R. -- co-written by Roberge with hired gun Glen Ballard, it amplifies every part of the band's sound, nearly guaranteeing a radio hit. There's quieter material here -- Jerry DePizzo's saxophone shines in the languid "Nasim Joon" -- and the band's knack for light and breezy island-flavored pop breathes in "Lay Down," "One Shot," "Program Director," and the irresistible "Wonderful Day." And yet it's the slick, gently insistent "The Stranger" (with backing vocals from Toby Lightman) that feels more representative of Stories of a Stranger. It's clear that Roberge is moving toward songs that will tell a story, make you smile, or make you think, but also have real appeal for casual listeners. There's nothing wrong with that -- O.A.R. proved their live mettle a long time ago, and they remain curious, crafty songwriters. Stories of a Stranger just presents everything that defines O.A.R. in a more concise package.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus