Sister Hazel’s meat-and-potatoes rock is alright by the Allman Brothers

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 28, 1997

As bands sometimes do, Florida guitar-rockers Sister Hazel included snapshots from their youth in the booklet for their latest CD, …Somewhere More Familiar. There are photos of four little kids playing piano, violin, guitar (with a Neil Young headband!), and drums—and one of a smiling tyke wearing a huge pair of sunglasses.

When singer-songwriter-guitarist Ken Block calls from his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, I’m torn as to whether I should guess he’s the happy tot in shades or the one tickling the ivories, and decide to go with the keyboard shot. But guessing games were never my forte.

“I’m the guy right in the middle playin’ the violin,” reveals Block with a laugh. “I don’t claim to be much of a player, though. I stick to singin’ and guitar.”

His lack of expertise on the violin hasn’t stopped Block, now 29, from making his mark in the music world—especially in parts of Florida, where Sister Hazel often sells more copies in a given week than Alanis Morissette. Prior to the group’s formation in 1993, Block performed in a popular Gainesville duo with Sister Hazel’s second lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist, Andrew Copeland.

“I’ve been in all sorts of different bands since I was about 12 years old,” says Block, “and I’d gone from a really hard-rock band to wanting to get back to the acoustic singer-songwriter thing. Andrew joined me shortly thereafter, and we played around for about three years, but it was really my desire to expand on that that brought about Sister Hazel. I really enjoy the energy that you can create with the talent that I’m surrounded by.”

It was in the acoustic-duo format that Block originally performed “All for You”, which was redone in a full-band version to become the catchy leadoff single from …Somewhere More Familiar. “It’s funny,” says Block, “because that’s more of a pop song, and we’re a rock band. It’s strange that America’s being introduced to us by a pop song, and people that come out and see us are always commenting on that fact. Our shows are definitely…well, we just got off tour with the Allman Brothers, and I’ll quote Gregg Allman. He said, ‘You guys are meat-and-potatoes rock ’n’ roll.’ ”

With Gainesville located just 75 miles southwest of the major southern-rock hub of Jacksonville, it’s not surprising that the style of music popularized by the Allmans has rubbed off on Sister Hazel. There are shades of Duane Allman in lead guitarist Ryan Newell’s abundant slide-playing.

“Obviously, Duane has influenced Ryan a little bit,” comments Block. “It’s kind of ironic, though, because he never, ever sat down and figured out a Duane lick. Ryan has an old soul, and if you ever see him play live, he is an amazing guitar player, and extremely versatile.”

Local southern-rock fans can check that claim out for themselves when Sister Hazel makes its Canadian debut at the Starfish Room on Tuesday (September 2).

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