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Rock band proves there’s no place like ‘Home’

Ryan Milligan | Thursday, March 30, 2006

Throughout the nineties, Collective Soul found consistent success and rose above many other grunge rock groups attempting to do the same. Fans figured the success came to an abrupt halt after managerial disputes resulted in over seven years without a decent release. The Atlanta-based quintet, however, came storming back onto the music scene after recording “Youth” in 2004. And this time around – they have decided to mix it up.

Whenever a rock group decides to collaborate with an orchestra, it always seems to be either a work of art or an absolute failure. Fortunately, Collective Soul is not Metallica so the former applies in this case. Listeners know the group has always relied heavily on strings to produce most of their chart-toppers. So when it was announced that Collective Soul would put on a live performance with the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, it was naturally assumed that the two would go well together. The end result is by no means a disappointment.

“Home” is a two-disc set that includes all of Collective Soul’s greatest hits, now enhanced by an orchestra consisting entirely of teenagers, along with a couple of hidden gems. Right off the bat, listeners can hear just how effective the combination is, as a brief but effective orchestral introduction is followed up with “Counting the Days” – one of the group’s most recent radio hits. The enthusiasm of the crowd also plays an immediate factor, and it continues to do so throughout the album.

Frontman Ed Roland is clearly at the top of his game during the entire performance. Occasionally labeled as one of the most underrated vocalists of the 90s, he puts listeners in their seats as the group belts out “December.” The supporting cast is just as solid. Newly acquired lead guitarist Joel Kosche made his presence felt during the recording of “Youth,” and continues to satisfy with fast-paced riffs in tracks such as “Precious Declaration” and “Heavy.”

Probably the most entertaining track is “Better Now,” which was extended from its original version in “Youth.” Originally just over three minutes in length, the live version goes on for over seven minutes. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives the youngsters plenty of time to show off their talents. Once again, Roland does not have to make much of an attempt to get the crowd up and cheering, due to the fact that “Better Now” is one of the most lifting, upbeat songs that Collective Soul has ever released. The chorus embodies the whole message of optimism (“Break the news out / I’ve got to get out / Oh I’m feeling better now”) and hearing it performed live only seems to magnify it.

In the end, however, the songs that paved the path for Collective Soul prove to be the most captivating in “Home.” Fans who have heard the hit “The World I Know” can already appreciate what an inspirational song it is, and that it relies on violins to strike emotional chords in listeners. Now backed by a full-fledged orchestra, the result is something amazing. “Shine,” which marked the group’s first reign at the top of the charts back in 1994, is another track that in many ways improves upon the studio version. Vocally, Roland is at his absolute best in the finale, singing his heart out to end an incredible performance.

It is not clear as to where Collective Soul plans to go from here. They made a successful comeback and continue to flaunt their originality, but history shows that in the music business, second winds do not last as long as listeners may hope. Regardless of what happens, “Home” proves Collective Soul has made its mark.