A case of the jug band blues
Brooklyn-based crooners coming to Weehawken
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter staff writer
Mar 24, 2013 | 2526 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A SOUND ALL THEIR OWN -- Roosevelt Dime, a Brooklyn-based band that draws inspiration from various facets of the American folk movement, features bluegrass instruments like the banjo, and blues instruments such as the jugband bass. From left: Andrew Green, Tony Montalbano, Eben Pariser, Nadav Nirenberg, and Seth Paris. Photos courtesy of Kate Reeder.
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Roosevelt Dime, the foot-stomping, genre-bending band that will bring its unique sound to the UBS Atrium Series this Wednesday, comes from all over, both musically and geographically. Their sound is Americana any way you look at it, but Americana is about as diverse as genres can get.

The free concert will take place at 12:30 in the atrium of the UBS building located at 1000 Harbor Boulevard in Weehawken. The concert is put on by the Hudson River Performing Arts Center, a nonprofit group that runs several musical series on the Weehawken waterfront. The event is sponsored in part by UBS, the Hartz Mountain Corporation, and The Hudson Reporter.

Drawing inspiration from bluegrass of Colorado, Maine’s coastline folk, and the jug band and blues of New Orleans’ French Quarter, Roosevelt Dime’s sound draws from nearly every facet of folk history to create something quite unique, and undeniably fun.

“We’re in the business of making people feel good,” said Eben Pariser, who sings and plays bass, both the double and jugband varieties.
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“We’re in the business of making people feel good.” - Eben Pariser
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Pariser laid the foundations for what would become Roosevelt Dime with co-founder Andrew Green, who shares vocal duties with Pariser and plays banjo. The duo began playing basement shows at Oberlin College in Ohio as The Drunk Band (“We cultivated the rowdiest parties on campus,” said Green).

After moving to New York City following graduation, they became more serious about their music, and began to develop their own sound. They put out an album under the name Roosevelt Dime in 2009, though it didn’t quite reflect their ultimate musical objective - merging Green and Pariser’s respective inspirations, which drew from opposite ends of the folk spectrum.

“Andrew’s always been in interested in songwriting and folk music, and since he’s a banjo player, he’s really into bluegrass,” said Pariser. “He also appreciates where my heart is, which is a New Orleans soul and jazz sound. So we were trying to put those sounds together on our first record.”

The record, “Crooked Roots,” reflects its inspirations, but Pariser said they weren’t satisfied. So, to perfect their fusion experiment, they took to the streets of New York City.

Today’s Dime

Beginning in the summer of 2009, the band began to morph, both musically and in terms of personnel. By adding drummer Tony Montalbano and Seth Paris on clarinet and saxophone, Green and Pariser were able to mesh their sounds in a way that capitalized on the talents of the band’s new members.

“Tony is an incredible listener, he can pick up really well on what we’re playing, and go back and forth between playing some pretty intense up-tempo New Orleans beat to a more downtempo type of drumming,” said Green.

Montalbano impressed during the band’s street performance days, and Green said that he could do amazing things with percussion “whether he’s behind a full drum kit or is just playing on a pineapple can and a snare.”

Paris’ use of woodwinds paired nicely as well. Having studied the unique sound of African brass bands but also mastering the swing and jazz standards of New Orleans, Paris can mesh the sounds in a way that fits the vision, said Pariser.

“He straddles the genres really well, he’s a fantastic musician,” he said.

The street performing had paid off, and the positive reception convinced the band it was ready to head back to the studio.

“People are really busy in New York, they don’t just stop to listen to anyone,” said Pariser.

“Steamboat Soul”

The group’s newest album, “Steamboat Soul” was released in 2011 to positive reviews. Its sound is more matured than that of its predecessor, and is heavily reflective of a more fluid songwriting partnership between Green and Pariser.

“Helpless,” one of the tracks off the album, in particular, exhibits the new heights the band has reached. Green had written the chord progression years ago but was never able to quite hammer it into something worth recording. The group practiced and practiced, but as Green put it, “it wasn’t really working.”

Pariser began to work with it later, adding a handful of soulful melodies and rearranging it to the point where it was stuck out as something less drab than the original.

“Eben sort of dug his teeth into it,” said Green. “Sometimes it really helps having him listen to stuff in my head from an outside perspective.”

“I think the composition is better than if either of us had done it on our own,” added Pariser.

So, “Steamboat Soul,” isn’t simply the name that Pariser and Green have dubbed their new album, but also their new sound.

“Its called what it is because theres not really a name for what we were doing at that point,” said Pariser.

According to Green, when they were performing on the street, people would come up to them after and ask what they called their genre, and they couldn’t really come up with a good answer.

“Steamboat soul was actually suggested by a fan,” said Green. “So now its sort of like ‘Oh you’ve got a banjo? Oh, you’ve got a jugband bass?’ That’s steamboat soul.”

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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