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The Dimes at Alex's

When Portland pop band The Dimes set out earlier this year to record its second full-length CD, "The King Can Drink the Harbor Dry," the project grew in its size and scope.

"We'd start working on a song and it would turn into about 40 more," says the band's electric guitarist, Pierre Kaiser. "Then we chose 13 to work on for the album."

The Dimes will present its new CD at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at Alex's Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

What began as a song written about Kaiser's hometown of Boston by the group's primary songwriter and acoustic guitarist, Johnny Clay, became a conceptual collection of folk pop. It seems Clay is a bit of a history buff, and the song led to a series based on early American history with narratives about a few of the city's most famous residents.

"There's John Damrell," Kaiser says. Damrell was chief engineer of the Boston Fire Department during the fire of 1872.

"He saved a lot of the town by being prepared and being a great leader. There's Clara Barton, who was a Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. And Mary Dyer."

Dyer is one of the Boston martyrs, hanged in Boston for defying a law banning Quakers from the new American colony.

The Dimes released the independent album in the Seattle and Portland markets a couple of weeks ago, and will be headed to Alex's in Ashland and Sam Bond's Garage in Eugene this weekend.

Raquel Nasser of the Portland Mercury wrote that "Many folk singers have covered the Civil War era and written Vietnam War protest songs, but few have chosen early American history as their muse. I suppose it could be the most romantic. The record stands as a well-composed history lesson about the early Boston area."

So much so that genealogists and documentarians have contacted the group after reading its blogs.

Along with its move from the "sunny day pop" on its 2007 album, "The Silent Generation," The Dimes grew from a four-piece to a seven-piece unit during the project.

"We were a straight-ahead band with bass, drums, two guitars and vocals playing traditional arrangements," Kaiser says. "We went a lot deeper on this album. We added Ehren Ebbage on lap steel, Kelly Mesegut on mandolin and Christi Clay on keyboards. There's more instruments, such as glockenspiel, bouzouki, clarinet, toy piano and an old, slightly out of tune piano on the record."

Four-part harmonies also have been added to the mix.

"There's definitely a Brian Wilson, Beach Boys thing going on with the harmonies," Kaiser says. "And we're big Beatles' fans. We wanted this to be our folkiest album yet. The same way that 'Rubber Soul' was the Beatles' folkiest album. Our goal was more toward Sunday morning music rather than Saturday night."

For all of its folky arrangements, The Dimes' music still holds a '60s pop sound.

Kaiser was born and raised in Boston, and has been on the West Coast about 14 years.

"Portland weather is so conducive to making music," Kaiser says. "If it's rainy, you can stay inside and work on a song. Portland is a little moodier, a little darker. Boston is just cold."

Songwriter Clay has never been to Boston, though the band will tour there in the spring.

"I think it's also become mythical to him," Kaiser says. "I hope he's not disappointed."

The Dimes released an EP, "New England," while working on the full length "The King Can Drink the Harbor Dry." The EP includes three songs from "The King," and, just for fun, a cover of John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels."

The recordings are on The Dimes' independent label, Timber Carnival Records.

Ashland alternative country band One Horse Shy, featuring Bob Evoniuk, Manda Bryn, Cris Kelly, Mysha Caruso, Ezra Severin and Bryan Helfrich, will join The Dimes Saturday night for a double bill at Alex's.

Cover will be $5. Call 482-8818.

Left to right: Jake Rahner, Pierre Kaiser, Ryan Johnston and Johnny Clay are The Dimes. New members of the group include Ehren Ebbage, Kelly Mesegut and Christ Clay. - Photo by Mathias Ailstock