Roosevelt Dime Totes the Influence of Antibalas, Doc Watson, More
Roosevelt Dime’s Eben Pariser may always remember his 22nd birthday.
It was 2005, Brooklyn had become his new home, and he was at the hip borough’s now defunct club Southpaw in Park Slope. He was celebrating his birthday watching Antibalas perform, and he says it was the best rock concert he has ever seen.
“The New York City Afrobeat scene was exploding,” Pariser recalls. “Antibalas, made up of many members of the Dap-Kings, was absolutely on fire. The music literally put me in a trance. Later, I learned that many people who were searching for a band to follow after Jerry [Garcia]’s death had moved over from the Dead to Antibalas. Fascinating.”
That may also be an appropriate word to describe Roosevelt Dime on stage. The roots band’s sound is a throwback to a bygone era — a celebration of acoustic Americana, folk, rock, and rhythm and blues. The band once called its music “steamboat soul,” but the music has gone through various changes through the years.
“We’ve gone from pedal steel-infused alt-country to horn-drenched steamboat soul to our current sound — best described as Americana rhythm and blues and, by far, the most stylized and focused we’ve ever been,” Pariser says. “Working within the pallet of classic rhythm and blues grooves is a culmination of a lot of time spent busking in the streets, subways, and parks of New York City, where we first got into the New Orleans thing back in 2010.
“The core trio of Tony [Montalbano], Andrew [Green], and me have remained the same throughout the configurations. However, we’ve recently added the masterful Craig Akin on upright bass, who grooves and second-lines his ass off. It resulted in my switch from bass to electric guitar, which I love. Andrew has engineered a new style of banjo that covers the territory a boogie-woogie piano usually occupies. A new full-length release is in the works, and, to wet the whistle, we will be releasing our groovy rhythm-and-blues-style ‘American Girl,’ a Tom Petty cover, this month.”
Rhythm and blues means a lot to Pariser, Roosevelt Dime’s guitarist and lead vocalist, as does the flatpicking and fingerpicking talents of guitar master Doc Watson. Pariser saw him at a bluegrass festival in Maine in the summer of 2003 and says it was one of the best concerts he has seen.
“Doc was one of the most tapped-in musicians I have ever seen,” Pariser says. “Maybe it has something to do with being blind and connecting with the vibes on a more internal level. The content just seems to emanate from this deep well of pure truth—and his guitar playing is so great. He seems like one of those guys that always sounds the same: really, really good. After the show, he was excited to sign my old Air Force harmonica and said, ‘Oh yeah, I used to have one of these!’ I still have it.”
Pariser, who also performs with his wife, Molly Venter of Red Molly, in the group Goodnight Moonshine, says Tim O’Brien put on the best folk concert he attended. It was July 29, 2012, at RockyGrass in Lyons, Colorado, just outside of Boulder.
“Tim’s showmanship and comfort onstage is so far unrivaled in my book. He was able to make the crowd of 6,000 feel like an intimate theater. He’s a masterful player and writer but with an air of humility and nonchalance. He worked seamlessly with many guests as they came and went on stage. Just a total pleasure to watch, listen, and enjoy.”
Though Pariser cites the Antibalas, O’Brien and Watson shows as the best ones he has seen, he cites concerts by the Marley family, Gillian Welch, and the Punch Brothers as the most influential.
On Aug. 10, 2004, he went to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell to see the Bob Marley Roots Rock Reggae Festival. It was the first time the Marley family — including Ziggy, Stephen, and Julian — joined together for an extensive U.S. tour.
“It featured five of Bob’s sons playing together, and Toots and the Maytals opened the show,” Pariser says. “To this day, I have never experienced more exuberance and positivity pouring off a stage. By the end of the show, the brothers had formed a drum circle on stage and reaffirmed the most basic premise of music: bringing together the community around a common beat.”
Last year, Roosevelt Dime recorded a single, “Pass It On,” which the Wailers — Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer — recorded on their classic 1973 album Burnin’.
Pariser says Roosevelt Dime’s cover version — recorded with the Stray Birds, Ellis Paul, and Laura Cortese — differs from the band’s prior albums.
“For starters, it was recorded in a hotel room instead of a studio. During the 2015 Folk Alliance International music industry conference in Kansas City, we enlisted performances from a dozen or so renowned artists, who added piano, fiddle, slide guitar, sax, trombone, and lots of singing. We released it and are giving 100% of the proceeds from sales to the Equal Justice Initiative—an organization dedicated to fighting poverty and reforming the justice system. So buy up!”
The influential Marley family concert was a month after Pariser saw his most influential folk concert. It also was in Brooklyn — at Southpaw — and featured Gillian Welch.
“I had just left college, and Gillian’s music was way up on a pedestal. I thought every man, woman, and child knew of her and she was a huge star. It really shocked me to see her and Dave (Rawlings) at a 300-capacity club and their humility and many thanks to friends and fans who had bought tickets. They seemed really happy to be there and taught me a lot about the realities of the industry and the kind of person and the relationship to music you must have to succeed. And they sounded great. Dave broke a string playing too hard!”
The most influential bluegrass concert Pariser attended was a Punch Brothers show at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan on Oct. 16, 2009.
“I got to see my best friend, Chris Eldridge, make it all the way to Carnegie Hall!” Pariser exclaims. “The Punch Brothers show me again and again the power of being true to your passion. Not everyone is going to like the music, but I think that the members’ passion for the limits of technical prowess and harmonic exploration fills the music with a sense of urgent purpose that ultimately allows them to a reach a larger audience. They always remind me to be true to who I am and let that take me as far as possible.”