Ed Roland & the Sweet Tea Project / Ed Roland

Devils 'n Darlins

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Having tasted pop superstardom, Ed Roland settles down into his Georgia roots with his second project, the Sweet Tea Project. Here, he scales back the arena rock affectations of latter-day Collective Soul albums, but he can still operate on a cinematic scale -- he has a knack for power ballads and has an innate sense of what would please a large audience -- the only difference is, Devils 'N Darlins, the first album by his post-CS outfit the Sweet Tea Project, knows when to pull its punches. Whenever Roland chooses to cut a love song, he doesn't blow it up to dramatic proportions and he's also happy to indulge his band in their various obsessions, whether its the reggae breakdowns on "Love Won't Bring Us Down" or doing a bit of a folk hoedown on "Pile of Pearls." Roland doesn't hide his influences, not when he's calling a song "Lennon's Lullaby," but Devils 'N Darlins is interesting because he simultaneously plays up his Southern roots -- both in regards to soul and to a foot-stomping country that's not so far removed from Mumford & Sons, or other acoustic worshippers -- and winds his way into dense, intricate pop. At his heart, Roland remains a populist, ready with simple, direct hooks, and eager to please. This creates some odd tensions -- he'll dig into some roots music then gussy it up to make it feel modern -- but that's why Devils 'N Darlins feels livelier than almost any Collective Soul album: he's had his success and now he's ready to stretch out as he reconnects to his roots, and the result is one of his most satisfying albums.

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