From the opening bars of "Home This Year," which titles and kicks off Virginia Coalition's fifth album, it's clear the band has progressed into rich new musical pastures. With the track's insistent, yearning refrain of "Gotta get home this year," the group sets the stage for a set filled with reflective songs and introspective moods. Gone are the high-energy performances and exhilarating sounds that were the Coalition's signature and reached an apex on their preceding album, Live at the 9:30 Club, while their penchant for fusing genres is deliberately muted. Instead, the bandmembers throw the spotlight on their songwriting, notably tightening the structures, and giving prominence to ambience and emotion. Songs like the star-crossed "Not Scared," glittering with acoustic guitars and delicate keyboards, waft into singer/songwriter territory, while the more grandiose "Same Page" has all the makings of a power ballad classic. "Santa Fe" evokes the soft rock stylings of the '70s, and with Jarrett Nicolay's banjo gently twanging away, brings to mind the likes of Poco. On the upbeat "Stars Align," his cheery playing is counterpointed by keyboardist Paul Ottinger's best champagne styling, like an Appalachian dinner club. So, the Coalition haven't entirely deserted their flair for fusion. The quietly infectious "Lately," for instance, hints at orchestral grandeur, while folding in a tinge of '60s soul. The band's soul stylings are further illuminated on "Look My Way," juxtaposed against an adamant rhythm and billowing electric keyboards. The entire set is lit with a quiet optimism and a sparkling sound. With the uplifting "Sing Along" destined for single status, the even more anthemic "Same Page" and infectious "Home This Year" deserve to follow. The Coalition come home to their earliest roots, and one hopes they'll stay there forever.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene