Pros:Newell's guitar, amazing audience participation, Block's vocals and personality.
Cons:"Superman" was left in the cuts, instead of another ballad.
The Bottom Line: Wish I could give it 6 stars!
I don't usually buy live albums, but I couldn't pass up "Live*LIVE!" by southern rockers, Sister Hazel. My criteria for buying/listening to live albums is usually 2 points:
Recommend this product?
-I've heard the artist live and loved it
-There's some intangible about their live collection
that I can't get anywhere else
I live not far from Gainesville, the band's college-town home, and have had the opportunity to enjoy them many times in different settings. I wasn't at either of the sessions used for "Live*LIVE!"....September 2003 performances at The House of Blues in Orlando and an appearance at The Masquerade club in historic Ybor City, a
long-time music venue in Tampa.
But the key to Sister Hazel's live performances is their connection with the audience. There's a band charisma that nearly leaps off the stage, that you sometimes can't feel in their studio albums (although all three have been superb). Dare I compare it to the way The Allman Brothers rose to the audience level everytime they appeared (stoned or not!) vs. their studio work? I think, yes, it's a realistic comparison.
Ken Block gets most of the press with Sister Hazel. He's the songwriter (extraordinaire) that generates much of the material and keeps them fresh, but veering only slightly from a certain path. He's blessed with a strong, distinctive voice that has small cricks and cracks in his upper register. Amazingly, these signature marks stay on pitch, in tune, and give many of his songs points of distinction. I especially love his composition "Out There"(disc 2) which, he says, he had the good fortune to write with his musical mentor, his father. It's a beautiful song about looking for love, and it closes out the two-disc set.
Block plays acoustic guitar and the nucleus of Sister Hazel's song success is its skillful blend of superb guitar. With harmony singer Andrew Copeland (a perfect mix with Block's voice) playing rhythm electric, Jett Beres on bass and sensational Ryan Newell on lead electric and some slide guitar -- it's a phenomenal ensemble. Listen for Newell-led jams on many of the album's best song intros and refrains. He's second to none. Percussion is solid and drummer Mark Trojanowski blends it well.
The sets from Orlando are relatively free of crowd noise other than opening and closing applause, but the Tampa sets feature a rowdy back-up group in the audience who know all the words and sing at will. The only song that is overwhelmed by this is the first disc's "All for You", SH's biggest hit to date. It has been, over the years, stupefied by too much radio airplay, so you almost welcome a new version with "crowd sing".
Best of the tunes?
"Life Got In The Way" - a great opener, gets everyone's juices flowing....
"I wanted us to be the one that poets write their books about"....
"Just Remember" - hot guitar jams lead in and surround the song-- some great a capella voice harmonies by Block/Copeland offset a middling set of lyrics on this crowd pleaser
"Come Around" Block's voice is unmistakable and distinctive on this love song. Some of the lyrics on "Come Around" are visual poetry...
"Sky fell down and pulled us in
stole away my oxygen.
Left me standing breathless there with you.
Ocean wrapped around the sun
The smell of you
the taste of your tongue...."
"Happy" rollicks all over the stage. Block's minor southern rap in mid-tune transitions from the song to a beautiful solo set on guitar by Newell - it closes out disc one on a rhythm and blues note.
"Your Winter"(also featured on the soundtrack of the movie "10 Things I Hate About You") and "Killing Me Too" are two of my favorite Sister Hazel songs. Quieter, and more introspective, both allow Block's plaintive upper register to shine through. Somehow the romantic insecurities that come through seem like Block's own. Perhaps they are. In "Killing Me Too", there's a surprise build up and crescendo at song's end that demonstrates just how well these boys play music.
"Sword and Shield" (recorded in Tampa), also graces disc 2. It's a departure from most of the S&H songs in theme - it is strangely and compellingly not contemporary in lyrics. It feels like it may have been written with a sound track in mind, although I don't think it appeared with any film. Copeland's harmonies are particularly haunting on the song, which features not only unique lyrics, but a more insistent beat.
There's really nothing not to like on the 2 disc set. One of my prior favorites, "Champagne High" sounds like less of a song because the band misses the back up vocals from Indigo Girl Emily Salier that appeared on the studio version. I've never been fond of "Superman", and wish they'd skipped it in favor of a ballad - their old song "Cereline" or "Hopeless", which features Copeland's beautiful vocals on lead.
Whether you have their studio albums or not, "Live*LIVE!" is essential in a collection that features great voices and harmony, impeccable guitar and the strong audience connection that Sister Hazel has made with audiences who miss the days of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allmans. College bar-band, maybe, by origin, but they've transcended far beyond that medium to one of the richest sounds of the south.
Great Music to Play While: Driving