Before the Amplifiers by Sister Hazel
For those of you needing a '90s fix, here you go.
If you grew up in the '90s and aren't familiar with Sister Hazel, you probably should be. Most of my friends were into them throughout high school and almost everyone I knew could sing along to "All for You" (probably their most popular single). SH was also my first live concert near Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
Before the Amplifiers is Sister Hazel's first acoustic recording from a small session at Nickel and Dime Studios in Atlanta. The concert hits all of their singles along with plenty of other songs they are sure to please SH fans and casual fans of that polished adult alternative sound that bands like Nine Days, Better Than Ezra, and Ingram Hill helped establish.
We get the pop harmonies that Ken Block and Jeff Beres have perfected since the beginning, the simple yet sometimes funky guitar riffs from Ryan Newell and Andrew Copeland, and super-tight playing from Mark Trojanowski on kit and cajon.
As far as the songs go, one thing I appreciate from the start is that SH begins their set with "Champagne High" - one of their most popular singles. Instead of waiting for a few so-so songs to get the concert going, they jump right in with a harmony-rich, guitar solo-filled version of a fan favorite which shows that the group definitely is in tune with their audience. I'm down with that.
Next up is a downtempo version of "Hold On" from their album, Lift. This is one of many songs from the set that keep the lyrics and harmonies, but change the feel or tempo. Two songs later, "All for You" gets a similar treatment with its introduction. Others include a slower version of "Just Remember," a pretty cool bluegrass-inspired version of "Starfish," and harmonically-altered ballad version of "Happy." Not something that happens often with stereotypical pop groups.
I should also mention that they close the set in a pretty cool way. The last song they play is the first song that Sister Hazel ever had called "Feel It." This song only appears on their very first album (self-titled) which is affectionately known by SH fans as 'the white album.' It's as tight as anything else from this concert and I can't think of many groups that are honest enough to end a concert with a single that hardly anyone (including their fans) knows.
To conclude, this well-recorded acoustic set from Gainesville's Sister Hazel is a snapshot of everything SH fans have come to know and love. From the audience interaction, to the two and three-part harmonies, to the one-time-only alterations to their staples, dedicated fans and casual listeners alike (especially those who were digging on Del Amitri and Blind Melon back in the day) will find plenty to like in Before the Amplifiers.