By John Lindsay –
With the popularity of the country genre over the past several years, there has been a litany of projects from artists outside the genre in an attempt to capitalize on its popularity. Some really worked – Darius Rucker, Aaron Lewis, and a great Bluegrass Country album from Styx singer/guitarist Tommy Shaw among the highlights – while other attempts just not so much. I remember having a conversation a couple years back and telling someone the best country album out was from the singer of the rock band Staind, and having to play it for them to prove it. Here we are in early 2016 and there is another great country album coming from the world of pop.
Pop/Rock veterans Sister Hazel are releasing their latest album “Lighter in the Dark” this month and it should sit proudly amongst the better country releases of the early part of the year. Best known for their 1994 hit “All for You,” Sister Hazel and their trademark melodies and harmony are on full display in the new songs. As a casual fan of their pop/rock stuff it would be easy for me to like, but this really is a legitimate “country” record. The project, recorded in Nashville, is very much Sister Hazel and very much “country.” The Gainesville, Florida (Go Gators!) quintet have done themselves proud with songs spanning the pop side of country, through Texas Red Dirt, and right to the other more traditional sound of country. The first single release is a feel good pop country tune featuring the aforementioned Darius Rucker as guest vocalist; “Karaoke Song,” speaks to what I as a DJ used to dread: karaoke night where everyone who sings has that one song, a go to, that they just kill. It’s a good introduction to the Nashville tweaking of the Sister Hazel sound. It may in fact be the most radio ready polished song on the record and the best shot at legitimate country airplay, but don’t let it fool you. This album is well worth the full listen.
Since I am in a country nightclub for my “real” job I can tell you there are 3 fantastic two-step songs for the dancers; “Prettiest Girl at the Dance,” is a slower old school Pure Prairie League sounding country two step, while “Kiss Me Without Whiskey” is a more rollicking honky-tonk tune that harkens to the Texas Red Dirt scene. Somewhere between those, stylistically, is “Danger Is Real,” a happy medium tempo for the dancers and a great lyric encouraging you to live your dream despite the danger being real: “The danger is real, but fear is a choice…”
“Fall Off The Map,” sounds like it belongs between the Eli Young Band and the Josh Abbott Band in your mix of great country group songs. “Almost Broken” a duet ballad featuring Jillian Jacqueline, “Thoroughbred Heart,” and “Ten Candle Days” lean to the softer, more traditional country sound and themes of love lost, self reflection, and looking back on life. Probably my favorite song on the album is “Something to Believe In,” which tells the story of a simple “Gainesville boy” loving a complicated woman and his look at his life, and seeing it as something to believe in.
I suspect there will be Sister Hazel fans who won’t be thrilled with this record (Oh God they went country!), as there will be hard core country fans offended that a rock band is trying to destroy their beloved music. I would say to all, just listen to it and just enjoy it for what it is. It’s a country album from a rock band with great songwriting, catchy melodies, and a real honesty. That, my friends, is the very foundation of country music. In the words of Kris Kristofferson “If it sounds country, it’s because it is…”
Sister Hazel on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lighter-in-the-dark/id1053283913