[8 April 2003]
Coming off some semblance of a buzz in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic area, the Virginia Coalition are starting to make some inroads. Formed in 1998, the group have fused a lot of genres into a style that isn’t easy to get away with. Touring throughout the U.S., the band also has been making a name for themselves in bars such as Washington’s 9:30 Club or New York’s Bowery Ballroom. With two albums, Colors of Sound and Townburg behind them, Virginia Coalition has followed up with Rock & Roll Party. And the record is another small but important stepping stone in paving more roads to a successful career.
Led by singers Andrew Thunder and Steve Dawson, the band gets going to a nice uplifting start with the neo-funk of “By & By”. Resembling what the Spin Doctors might sound like in these current times, the band mix a bit of everything to keep a good flow and better tempo. If there’s one slight drawback it might be how the song falls off rather quickly. “Come and Go” doesn’t really grab the listener on the first time through, coming off like Counting Crows and Train. This could be the influence of producer Joe Zook (Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, and Mick Jagger), but musically it stays relatively stagnant, and the abrupt nature to the conclusion is annoying. Surely another verse could be used to beef the track up as the tune sounds almost finished.
“Walk to Work” is another neo-funk idea that works when the guitars and backing harmonies kick in. It’s the type of song John Hiatt would have fun with also. “Some will burn up, some will freeze / Some will come together with the greatest of ease”, the lyric goes before heading into a percussion-centered bridge. And finally there is some conclusion to the song. Virginia Coalition aren’t afraid to stray from the traditional rock instruments, particularly on the adorable folk of “Valentine Eraser”. Jarrett Nicolay’s banjo and violin makes this song accessible, perhaps reminding some people of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Picking things up on “Referring Rosarita”, the band seems capable of exploring any genre with a lot of enthusiasm and great musicianship; the early and winding highlight is very similar to Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” instrumental coda.
Virginia Coalition has the best of both worlds, the ability to play the solo singer-songwriter idea while having the brawn of a full band. John Mayer fans would love “This Is Him (hurricane song)”, a light and soaring pop tune. As the title track, “Rock & Roll Party” sounds out of character for the band, an old school rock and roll feeling that seems much too forced and contrived. Thankfully it ends as soon as it begins, lasting a little over a minute. Paul Ottinger as bass player is the underrated person on this album as he bass line is all over “Jerry Jermaine”. Despite name-dropping golfers like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, it’s doubtful the PGA will be calling anytime soon. This tune has a staged party feel and live atmosphere to it, perhaps being better if it were performed or recorded in a genuine live audience setting. “A party ain’t a party without a drum beat”, prompts the lyrics as drummer John Patrick obliges.
Reverting to what goes down easily on “Referring Rosarita”, Virginia Coalition revisits folk pop on “Moon in the Morning”. Sounding like the Connells circa Still Life, the song is formulaic but catchy. For those that remember that brief country star of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the vocals are a fair comparison to Lionel Cartwright, especially on the mid-tempo “Your Least Favorite Song”. What is most likely the listener’s least favorite song is the quasi-bluegrass rockabilly of “Martha Lu”. This is not an area that one should venture into naively, something the group has done here. Overall, though, the Virginia Coalition’s keen musical sense is what puts this album primarily over the top, changing gears without missing a beat.