Earnest, feel-good acoustic-based rock bands being a dime a dozen these days (see Gin Blossoms, Hootie, Badlees, etc. etc.), what sets Gainesville, Florida outfit Sister Hazel apart is the spirited diversity they bring to their second album.
Originally self-released (it's sold nearly 10,000 copies since September; following a 9,000-selling indie debut), ...Somewhere More Familiar has been remixed and remastered by Universal Records for national release. An advance cassette puts the band's strengths and weaknesses in stark relief - the melodies, hooks and harmonies are catchy, but the mixes are uneven (drums too far in front in places) and a few of the songs are enjoyable but ineffectual also-rans. And a subtle but creeping Doobie Brothers influence doesn't help. That said, there's still much to recommend them.
First, their intentions are noble - they're named for a well-known rescue missionary who serves the greater good in their hometown. Second, their music is fine, inoffensive ear candy - they sound very much like a southern version of Barenaked Ladies, particularly in the vocals and arrangements, and they're adept enough at finding the right groove (earning a favorable comparison to God Street Wine; that should get them onto some Deadhead Summer mix tapes).
The band's original core, the acoustic guitar duo of songwriter Ken Block and singer Andrew Copeland, are ably aided by bassist Jeff Beres and drummer Mark Trojanowski laying down hippie-rock dancing rhythms that don't bely the songs' southern rock and folk influences, the latter hinted at with keyboards.
There's no reason that Sister Hazel's typically upbeat songs like "Happy," "Superman" or "Cerilene" (we can always use more girls' names for song titles) couldn't be radio hits. A self-released single, "All For You," has already charted on several southern stations. With a larger label behind them now, they should do just fine on a national level. At least until the next Gin Blossoms album comes out.