Sound — 7
There's a mellow, laid-back quality to Virginia Coalition's music that will probably immediately resonate with fans of Train, The Wallflowers, or even Jack Johnson to a certain extent. At first listen, the Virginia natives' latest album Home This Year tends to blend in with a number of acoustic-driven pop groups on the music scene. But to the band's credit, there are some very impressive arrangements and instrumentation that allows their talents to come to the surface. The overall songwriting is not the most thrilling or memorable and it wouldn't hurt them to be a bit more daring, but Virginia Coalition has a pleasant enough sound that it should easily find itself on the Top 40 charts down the line. It's immediately obvious from the start of Home This Year that the 3 musicians in Virginia Coalition have taken time to create tight, and often times intricate arrangements. The title track Home This Year might be a little too low-key or lackluster for some of us out there, but there is still a nice display of instrumentation going on. While the song primarily focuses on piano/organ and the acoustic, there are some interesting picking styles on it. The song does tend to get repetitive at times, and that is an issue that does pop on some of the other tracks. Santa Fe would have made the perfect opening track with it's catchy hook at the beginning, which appears to be an acoustic-banjo combo. It never feels like an outright bluegrass song, but the banjo definitely takes it in a much different direction than if they tried to simply use the synthesizer or power chords. Apparently there's also a bit of mandolin in there as well, supplied by Dave Immergluck of Counting Crows. Santa Fe has an amazing arrangement and stands out as the strongest track on the entire CD. There are a few ballads that pop up on the album (Not Scared, Sing Along), but then again, the entire album doesn't necessarily broach the rock category. It's simply the nature of the instruments they are playing in Virginia Coalition. Pianist/keyboardist Paul Ottinger may add a softer side to the band's sound, but he also adds some of the most interesting musical sections throughout the album. Jarrett Nicolay's banjo created a completely different vibe to each track, and it would have actually been cool to hear him go even further with that sound.
Lyrics — 8
Aside from the fact that vocalist Andrew Poliakoff's tends to get repetitive on the choruses, there are some nicely worded lyrics throughout the course of Home This Year. The title track tends to sound like everything you might hear on the radio or any sentimental TV commercial (Gotta get home this year; Is that you baby? The first words I want to hear), but the band makes up for that predictability in other areas. The song I Got This One includes several clever lines like, I bought my piano to pay for the lessons or Even my broken clock is right twice a day. In general there is a Top-40 vibe to it all, but it's obvious that the band took time to word things in a way that puts a little twist on the usual themes.
Overall Impression — 7
Virginia Coalition has been around the late '90s, and you can sense that this is a group of musicians who have a clear concept of their style. If you're not a fan of Hootie & The Blowfish or groups on the more benign side of rock, Home This Year will simply not be an interesting listen. But when you break it down, Virginia Coalition does deserve credit for adding banjo, mandolin, and some fantastic piano lines into the mix. It would be great to hear those instruments more prominently in the mix, and the Dave Matthews Band has proven that there can be a huge payoff when you give your key musicians a little more of the spotlight.