Collective Soul vocalist Ed Roland steps out with the debut album from his Southern-tinged gospel/folk amalgam The Sweet Tea Project, diving head-first into a brave new world of countrified hootin’ and twangin.’ Owing no small debt to Roland’s Georgia upbringing, the album celebrates a distinctively Southern voice tempered with a wanton sense of recording studio discovery by way of banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, and steel guitar.
Tracks like “Going to Birmingham” are like an Americana smack of The Avett Brothers meets Rodney Crowell: a playfully dangerous, barefooted honky-tonk strummer with enough edginess for Roland’s rocker-faithful fans yet still endearing him to neo-Nashville hipsters. “Oh Lord” is a faux-reggae dancer, complete with “sha-la-la” chorus and Eagles-influenced California vocal harmonies – Roland crying out for a desired redemption with, “Oh Lord, can you save me?”
Elsewhere, “Pile of Pearls” has a songwriters’ circle vibe; the contemplative nature of the song, with its steel guitars and lived-in skin make it the type of gold-medal brand that Music City’s Bluebird Café churns out famously.
There are still bona fide rockers, like “Love Won’t Bring Us Down” that could very well fit on a Collective Soul record like 2008’s “Afterwords.” There are also pure Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard-inspired country nuggets like “Already Over.” Roland channels the ghost of Hank Williams most convincingly of all in “Enough Nickels;” Roland’s classic lonesome-drifter pen comes alive with “if I could have a nickel, for every time I think of you,” in a puppy-eyed yearning to a distant love.
Ed Roland has no problem showing off his “roots,” with an elegantly inspired back-porch charm and inimitable songwriting nerve; think Collective Soul’s rock candy served up with a little grits ‘n gravy.
Devils ‘n Darlins Ed Roland and The Sweet Tea Project Rating: W W W W
-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent