Depending on the song, Roosevelt Dime is a throwback to another era — Leon Redbone meets Squirrel Nut Zippers — or something else altogether. The rootsy quartet does Band-inflected Americana on “Calvary” and zydeco on “Cocaine Habit Blues” — the latter samples the Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones.” A highlight of the just released Full Head of Steam is “Now There’s You,” a sizzling slice of Motown served up with soulful horns.
Guitarist and banjo player Andrew Green met bassist/songwriter Eben Pariser at Oberlin College; the two started Roosevelt Dime after graduation. Initially, the group busked acoustically in New York City, incorporating brass and multiple harmonies partly to rise above the din.
“Horns are really loud — they get people’s attention,” Green explained. “We were performing in parks and subways, and these were New Yorkers on their way home from work. If you can get them to stop, maybe even dance or tap their foot, you are really onto something.”
Green grew up listening to hard rock and found his way to roots music through the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? He cites John Hartford as a key influence.
“He did everything,” Green said. “Singing, playing, soft-shoeing — an all around entertainer who could tell a joke or a story.”
Green also admires Ray Charles, Otis Redding and James Brown.
Each member of Roosevelt Dime brings a unique perspective. Green is a New York native, Pariser hails from Maine; horn player Seth Paris and drummer Tony Montalbano are both West Coast transplants.
“We are … taking the elements of old-time music and incorporating it with soul, R&B, rock and Dixieland jazz,” Green said. “We’re not so much trying to be the guys of classic American folk tradition. We just really enjoy combining different genres to ... come up with something on our own.”
They describe their music as “Kings County Steamboat Soul” — a nod to the New Orleans music so integral to its sound, and a reference to the band’s home base of Brooklyn. Their live shows are kinetic and energetic.
“It’s a rustic, almost guerrilla reggae style of playing … it is a challenge to make it all gel together and program a set that feels cohesive,” Green said.
The result is a melting pot of honky tonk, bluegrass, American Beauty-era Dead and Stax/Volt soul.
“We expect a lot from an audience … to hear some of those influences and make their own interpretations,” Green said. “We don’t try to dumb it down for people. We treat them with respect and we are not afraid to cover a lot of ground.”
The upcoming appearance at Nashua’s Simple Gifts Coffee House is the band’s first trip to New Hampshire; it’s also a release party for the new record, the band’s third studio effort. Recorded live, it updates several staples from Roosevelt Dime’s regular set list, including an eponymous theme song initially written to coincide with 2009’s Steamboat Soul.
“We wanted to do something big and special for the release show, we were green at that point — no touring, no following,” said Green about the woe-is-me blues tune. “We thought we were getting good … to throw our hat in the ring, we had this idea — you need an opening song.”
Another gem updated for the new album is “Down On Your Luck,” refashioned as a duet between Pariser and Molly Venter, who are now engaged and perform frequently as a duo. The other two members of Venter’s band Red Molly sing backup on the track.
“We really enjoyed collaborating with them,” Green said. “They are such phenomenal singers; they can make themselves fit in any kind of context.”
As seen in the April 10, 2014 issue of the Hippo.