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Collective Soul
Home
EMI Music Group
www.collectivesoul.com


Radio-friendly rockers flip the symphonic switch on their melody-making machine

Somewhere during the history of durable and ambitious rock bands, a group will attempt the momentous task of playing with a live orchestra. The assignment? Balance the light with the dark as two worlds collide and rock synergizes with the seemingly diametric style of classical music. In the past this experiment has been met with varied success, as Procol Harum, Dream Theater, Styx, and Metallica have all gone symphonic for a few shows.

The latest band to accept the big-O challenge is Collective Soul. Twelve years into their successful career, the alternative quintet recorded the album Home over two performances with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) in April, 2005. At first, the thought of a seasoned band playing with precocious child musicians who are probably the age of their own kids seems a bit bush-league. But considering the circumstances, it feels right; the band hails from Georgia and the album they were touring for at the time was appropriately titled Youth.

The ASYO has no trouble keeping up their elders on the opening rocker, "Counting The Days", one of five tracks from Youth that appear in the set list. The orchestra plays a relatively prominent role throughout most of the songs, many of which are among Collective Soul's handful of hit singles (and many of which are slower numbers that had orchestration to begin with). At other times the symphony simply accompanies the band but rarely takes as much a back seat as the drums do in the final mix. But Collective Soul's music, notorious for its reliance on shameless power-chord hooks, really takes on a pleasant dimension with the ASYO's masterful orchestration, making for an affecting version of "Needs", a poignant rendition of "Run", and a haunting run-through of "Heavy". Also, "Pretty Donna", a violin and cello piece that originally appeared as an anomaly on the band's debut album, finally has a proper home here.

As a band bent on studio wizardry and glammy production gimmicks, Collective Soul plays admirably out of their comfort zone for the evening. But in line with their radio-length songs, a few tunes could have been much more without impatient and non-progressive arrangements, particularly the ballad "Run". While it still delivers, you can't help but feel that the band missed a rare opportunity to push a great song to epic heights and surpass the band's self-imposed pop-rock boundaries in the process. And while the performance is good with new drummer Ryan Hoyle and lead guitarist Joel Kosche, Collective Soul questionably tend to cut a few corners on guitar notes ("December") and proper backup vocals ("Listen"). Not enough to spoil the songs, mind you, but it's unclear why a band so meticulous in the studio didn't completely follow suit outside of it.

In the end, the heart of Collective Soul remains singer/guitarist Ed Roland, whose singing qualities alternate between Eddie Vedder machismo and heart-on-sleeve earnest. On this night you can feel Roland's desperation for his band to shine on a once-in-a-lifetime stage, and for a while it seems like expectations aren't being met. But toward the end of the show, the crowd takes over with a sing-along during the middle section of "Better Now" that elicits "This is what it's all about, right here" from an overjoyed Roland. And when the band closes with a definitive version of breakout cover "Shine" - complete with majestic brass and bells - Roland's dream becomes fully realized during the orchestral slowdown before the final stretch.

Roland, a once-struggling 30-year-old musician ready to hang up his dreams, basks in the glory of this triumphant moment, one that only perseverance, a little luck, and just such an occasion can bring.

-Ken Devine

Download: "Needs", "Run", "Shine"


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