Absolutely Label: Adrenaline Records
It may come as a surprise to many, particularly those unfamiliar with Sister Hazel, that the Gainesville, Florida band of college buds has been alive and kicking for 13 years now. Their first several years were spent cutting a demo, redoing it in the form of their second album, Somewhere More Familiar, which for all intents and purposes was their debut, and playing every bar in the southeastern United States, usually the night after Hootie and the Blowfish left. Yes, despite having the striking “debut” under their belt, including the immediate bell ringers “Happy” and “All for You” (what house party did you attend from 1997-1999 without hearing that song?), Sister Hazel could not shake Hootie’s shadow.
Ten years later, in what some would consider a just twist of fate, Hootie is dead and gone while Hazel rolls on. These guys have really never stopped touring. Ever. The 13 new tracks on Absolutely don’t break any new molds, reverting to a tried and true blueprint of jangling guitars and over-the-top hooks, tailor made for any back yard fraternity mixer in SEC country. Easy themes and instantly catchy melodies engulf “Meet Me in the Memory” and “Shame,” while the softer side of manhood is validated on “Tear by Tear,” which screams “all skate!”
Guest vocals by old band pal Shawn Mullins help the first single, “Mandolin Moon,” stand out from the pack. But Absolutely is about as easy and non-threatening a listen as there is in this genre today. In fact, going back in Hazel’s catalog is a lot like revisiting forgotten discs from some of your favorite bands. Most of their stuff plays like it’s been on shuffle mode in the background of life for years. Mindless topics such as girls, boats, seasons, and the ongoing party that is life epitomize this band. “Shine a light into it, shoot a cannon through, spill it all and hope you find a way to make it through it,” Ken Block offers on the spine-tingling ballad “Where Do You Go”. Any question why the female population makes up the greatest part of Hazelnuts, the bands diehard fan base?
The thought of Richard Marx being hired on to produce part of this record could well scare off the ardent rock fan. But “Hello, It’s Me” is a groovy little blues-fused ditty that lets the guitars ring, and “Anyway” culminates with a electric solo that could rival Heartbreaker Mike Campbell. The percentage of mundane, even forgettable, slow stuff holds Absolutely back from being more of a career exclamation point. But there are a handful of mix tape candidates here and even a couple that might make the elusive greatest hits collection somewhere down the road. Whether they keep running like Forrest Gump for another 13 years or fall extinct like Hootie, they might go down as one of the more qualified unknowns of this period. Pass the Hazelnuts, would ya?