Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Catchy as Hell Pop from Virginia Coalition

A lucky library pick-up was a live album by  Virginia Coalition called “Live at the 9:30 Club”. I was going to write that album up a while ago. I had even begun to write the review:

I don’t usually like recorded live music. I generally like my music either actually live, performed right there in front of me, or polished from the studio. There are exceptions, of course. I do enjoy the occasional LivePhish CD, “Frampton Comes Alive!” was a great recording, Jazz performances often record well. For the most part, though, it’s difficult to capture the energy of a live show, and the sound isn’t as good. Usually.

I stumbled upon a great live recording of a band I had never heard of, though I have since ordered some of their studio work. The Virginia Coalition is a rock band out of Alexandria Virginia. Since 1998, they have released 7 studio albums. Somehow every one of them had escaped my notice, but this live album got my attention.

Virginia Coalition Live at the 930 Club

Hey, VACO. If you read this, book some dates in Cleveland. KTHX.

In the course of writing this review, I discovered no one has samples of the songs on this double disc anywhere. Nothing on YouTube, Amazon sells the disc but has no audio samples, etc. I tabled the idea. Since then I have gotten a couple of the Virginia Coalition studio albums I requested. They’re not wall-to-wall winners, but there is great music on both, so I’m going to write about those instead.

I guess I should explain the overall sound a bit. I would say they remind me of a cross between Blues Traveler and Barenaked Ladies with occasional flashes of Dave Matthews. Sounds pretty good, right? It is. The instrumentation rarely blows you away; there is very little breakout, virtuoso soloing or crazy, complicated fills. You get a sense that they could do that if they wanted to, but like Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, the band seems intent on serving the groove of the song rather than playing to impress. Lead singer Andrew Poliakoff has an uncanny ability to toss out pleasing Pop melodies that most vocalists would give up a finger for.

First, their 2004 release, “OK to Go.” I kept 5 songs off this release:

  • Last Goodbye – There is a lot of piano in their work, but this one is entirely guitar driven and they rock it out a little more than their usual gentle Pop.
  • Walk to Work – “I walk to work ‘cos my car broke down.” He’s poor in the city but making the best of it. This one makes me think of Bob Schneider (Ugly Americans) a little bit. Funky verses give way to a fat chorus. I like this track a lot.
  • Voyager 2 – It sounds like this is going to be another up-tempo number when it starts but they subside into a sweet introspective tune.
  • Abbey Are You Endless – This one rocks about has hard as I’ve heard them play. They also do some interesting work putting echoes and other effects on the vocals. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is one of my favorite studio songs I’ve heard by VACO.
  • Meteor – ‘Meteor’ is typical of these guys. It doesn’t rock too hard, but it isn’t a sleepy song either. The verses lull you and the chorus jumps out and grabs you.

The other studio album I’ve gotten thus far is 2008’s, “Home This Year.”

  • Home This Year – A sunny but melancholy song about being away from home on the road. “Gotta get home this year. ‘Is that you, baby?’ The first words I wanna hear.”
  • Santa Fe – This is a small, appealing song with easily plucked guitars and a simple Pop hook chorus. Poliakoff is great at rolling out simple melodies like this.
  • Stars Align – This one is a lot like ‘Santa Fe’ except the chorus is maybe a little fatter. It trips along in the studio but I bet it’ll get your feet moving when they break it out live.
  • Same Page – I am reminded of late Blues Traveler when I listen to this one. The message of peace and in particular Poliakoff’s vocal delivery reminds me a lot of John Popper. Thin John Popper, not old school.

In my opinion, neither of these studio albums is as good as “Live at the 9:30 Club.” The joy and energy they are famous for putting into their performances is miraculously captured and the songs always bring a smile to my face when they get shuffled to the top of my deck. Get the live album if you can and certainly see them live if you get the chance.

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November 9, 2009 - Posted by | Popular, Rock

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