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Collective Soul: 25th Anniversary LP Reissues

09-10-2020 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 111

Back in the early nineties, I worked at my day job with a guy, Tim, who was following his dream, trying to make it as a guitarist moonlighting in a local Atlanta rock band. He was a wickedly gifted guitar player, and his band had often gone head to head against another local band, Mr. Crowe's Garden, who had recently gotten signed by Def American Records. Upon being signed, Mr. Crowe's Garden changed their name to The Black Crowes—you know the rest of the story; their debut record made it to number 4 on the US charts, and went 5x platinum. Tim was always bitter about that experience, and had an extreme level of resentment towards The Black Crowes, especially singer Chris Robinson, whose definitely been a polarizing figure in the music industry over the years. 

Despite having to listen to Tim's occasional rants on his personal misgivings about the music industry, he was a fount of information regarding local bands. And he was always keen to turn me on to up-and-coming bands he viewed as rising stars, with a real chance of making it. One of those bands was from Stockbridge, on the southside of Atlanta, a group called Collective Soul, who were getting lots of airplay on local college station Album 88 (WRAS). And unlike The Black Crowes—who were a cover band before getting signed—Collective Soul played all their own songs. At the time of the release of the first two albums, Collective Soul consisted of Ed Roland on vocals and guitar, Ross Childress on lead guitar, Dean Roland on guitar, Will Turpin on bass, and Shane Evans on drums. These new LP releases from Craft Recordings are in association with the 25th anniversary celebration of the band's inception.

Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid

Collective Soul frontman Ed Roland studied songwriting and guitar at the Berklee College of Music; upon his return to Atlanta, he got a job working at local Real to Reel Studios, and penned Collective Soul's first big hit "Shine" during that experience. He worked several small groups around town, before finally forming Collective Soul; they basically recorded a demo album in a local basement, and it came to the attention of Album 88, getting regular airplay on the locally popular Georgia Music Show. They were signed to a contract with local indie label Rising Storm, but were soon acquired by Atlantic Records. Who felt their demo tape and the lead single "Shine" were so exceptionally well done, they rushed the music into production without any remixing or anything, straight onto the airwaves. Ed Roland attempted to bargain with Atlantic to at the very least get the record properly remixed, but the suits at the label felt that any additional delays would drain the record's momentum, and insisted on issuing the demo tracks as is. As it turned out, the label made the correct call; the album peaked at number 15 on the US charts in 1994, and quickly went double platinum, and the lead single "Shine" rose to number 1 on the charts. In no time at all, Collective Soul was part of the alternative rock mainstream, when they were really only hoping to sell maybe 10-to-20,000 copies of the album.

Ed Roland was a natural showman with a gripping stage presence, and somewhat of a flair for stylish and occasionally outrageous suits. His vocal performances were augmented on stage by lead guitarist Ross Childress, brother Dean Roland on rhythm guitar, Will Turpin on bass, and Shane Evans on drums, and Collective Soul soon developed a reputation as a dynamic live act. And their music was lauded as being very upbeat and accessible, especially in an era of popularity for the more angsty grunge bands that were currently in vogue. Collective Soul gained even more exposure by opening for Aerosmith on a national tour; the band also played at Woodstock ‘94. 

Despite all the commercial success, Ed Roland was still unhappy with Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, which he felt was simply a demo tape, and not truly representative of the band and its music. Collective Soul was still getting tons of airplay nationally with great songs like "Goodnight Good Guy," "Sister Don't Cry," "Love Lifted Me," and "Breathe," but Roland was insistent that the band work tirelessly to lay down tracks for their next album. The album that he felt would truly be their debut record, and more emblematic of the band's growth musically and professionally, Collective Soul.Collective Soul

Because of touring obligations for the first album, the recording sessions ran into inevitable delays, and Collective Soul (or the "Blue Album" as it's commonly known) wasn't released until March, 1995. Matt Serletic was brought in as producer, which actually was a really good fit. Matt had been part of one of Ed Roland's local Atlanta groups prior to the formation of Collective Soul, and had been steadily climbing the music industry ladder with a variety of record labels. He and Ed Roland knew each other well, and Matt would develop a reputation as a top-notch producer, going on to produce such acts as Matchbox 20, Cher, Blessid Union of Souls, and Edwin McCain, among others. The "Blue Album" was recorded at Criteria Studios in Miami, and the resulting tapes were mixed by Bob Clearmountain. The album debuted at number 23 on the Billboard charts, and spawned no fewer than five singles, with "December," "The World I Know," and "Where The River Flows" all reaching the number 1 position on the charts. "Gel" peaked at number 2, and "Smashing Young Man" peaked at number 8; suddenly the band was everywhere, and they got a significant boost from additional exposure on MTV.

Ed Roland stepped up his stage presence significantly as the band toured with Van Halen through the first part of 1995. They then played all the major US festivals, before eventually embarking on a headlining tour of their own. The airwaves were literally flooded with their songs, and fans clamored to see Ed Roland and the band live. The group were rewarded for their efforts with 3x platinum sales in the US, and Collective Soul went 8x platinum worldwide, and spent 76 weeks on the Billboard charts. The band played most of the songs from the "Blue Album" on tour, along with a few new songs; the only song from the first record that got any regular stage time was "Shine."

Craft Recordings 25th Anniversary Edition LPs and CD

The compact disc still ruled in the mid-nineties, and very few new releases were pressed on vinyl at the time; so until a year or so ago, neither of these albums had been released in any form other than on CD. Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid was released as a 2018 Record Store Day LP pressing, but Collective Soul had never been released as an LP, until now. I listened to both LPs on my usual system, which includes a ProJect Classic table with a Hana SL moving coil cartridge, playing through a Musical Surroundings Phonomena phono preamp. And into my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube amp, through Zu Audio Omen Loudspeakers.

Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid was essentially released from the demo tapes Ed had recorded, and was never meant to be released as an album. Apparently Matthew Serletic had some minimal involvement with the album at the point it was released, getting a co-production credit on two tracks. The Craft Recordings LP sounds incredible; and it appears that the original demo tapes were used for the LP's production. No amount of detective work on my part could clearly come up with any info as to whether the tapes were remixed for this LP release, though it was surely newly remastered. [If I determine anything different from this, I'll update this review pronto]

Regardless, the sound quality of Hints, Allegations is surprisingly impressive, and the music literally jumps out of the speakers at you! After a couple of listens, yeah, you do pick up on the fact that this is basically a demo tape—but it's a pretty darn good one! If I had any quibbles with the overall sound, it would be that Ed Roland's vocals seem a little recessed in the mix, but that's a negligible complaint. And the side two track "Scream" literally screams at you; obviously someone had a heavy hand on the gain control at the mixing console, it's a pretty jarringly unpleasant effect, especially when listening to the digital files in the car. Ed, what were you thinking?

Collective Soul was, of course, way closer to Ed Roland's idea of who the band really was both creatively and musically, and should have been their major label debut. It's an amazing record that truly struck a chord with the record-buying public, and its staggering popularity helped propel single after single to the top of the charts. And some of the best songs that really grabbed you were the ones that didn't make it to the charts. The opening track on Side One, "Simple," is a perfect case in point; before getting my review copies, I'd seen an online review from someone who complained that the LP sounded really flat. "Simple" starts off with a very low-level, almost transistor radio kind of sound that goes on for about ten seconds; my initial thought was, "geez, this guy may be right!" About that time, Shane Evans' drums pound right into the middle of the soundfield, and Ross Childress' and Dean Roland's guitars sear across the soundstage; the song has an infectious beat that's simply irresistible. "Untitled" is another incredibly good tune; the LP's first two songs didn't make much of a dent on the airwaves, but serve as a prelude for what is about to become a greatest hits parade from the band. The next five songs reached the top ten, with three reaching the number one position.

The sound quality of Collective Soul is superb; this is a record of reflection and introspection in places, but at points, it really rocks! As with Hints, Allegations above, I haven't been able to determine if the tapes were remixed for the new LP release. And I don't know what kind of tin box the guy who complained about the LP played his copy on, but he needs to get some new equipment: this is an outstanding sounding release. And that's actually true of both LPs from Craft Recordings; the LPs were perfectly flat, with no scuffs and very glossy LP surfaces, and there was virtually no noticeable surface noise during playback. And the outer jackets and inner sleeves were virtually perfect. 

Both albums are being released as standard LPs; Collective Soul is also being released in a limited edition colored vinyl LP, along with a deluxe CD reissue that includes six previously unreleased alternate takes and bonus tracks. Updated digital files are now available on most major streaming services; I didn't have access to the CDs, but I was able to access the digital files, and they also sounded superb.  

Collective Soul is still around; their 2019 release, Blood, has received critical acclaim, and Ed Roland says "Blood is the beginning of a lot of good music to come." These new LPs from Craft Recordings are a testament to their legacy, and you can visit the band's website and find purchase information HERE. Both releases are very highly recommended, and thanks to Aaron Feteri of Chummy Press for all his assistance.

Collective Soul: Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. LP: $21.99 MSRP.   

Collective Soul: Collective Soul. LP: $21.99, CD: $15.99 MSRP. 

Both available from Craft Recordings on premium vinyl.