If you’re like me, you have favorite band or two that you’ve always wondered why they were not better known or more famous. You know, interesting lyrics, hooky melodies, great guitar work, but for some reason they just don’t make it big. I’d like to nominate four bands to that list, and all of them had minor or major hits in the mid 90’s. If fact you’ve probably heard them in your local grocery store or Outback restaurant. While that might sound like abject failure musically, the residuals still help keep some of these bands on the road. So without further adieu, here are my four under-appreciated favorites.
Dada – Now on their 20th anniversary tour this winter (2013), Dada had a couple hits in the mid 90’s with “Dizz Knee Land” and “Dim” on college and progressive radio. Certainly the edgiest of my picks, Dada combines Beatle-like harmonies with sometimes disturbing lyrics, and some of the best guitar playing anywhere courtesy of Michael Gurley. Their songs can range from bleak scenes of despair to naive optimism, and all of it somehow hummable. Truly a great band that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. All their albums are worthy, but if you buy just one, get Puzzle. But don’t buy just one. They tour very infrequently, and if you can catch their 20th anniversary tour, you will not be sorry.
Del Amitri – From Scotland, Del Amitri’s big hit “Roll To Me” is still pounding out of restaurant speakers all over the country. It’s a shame, as they crafted many sophisticated pop songs with a slightly punk edge that makes Oasis look like total amateurs. From distorted driving rockers to sensitive acoustic numbers, Del Amitri was another band putting out finely crafted tunes just as the world was embracing grunge. We can thank grunge for killing hair metal, but their was collateral damage along the way. Their strongest album is probably Twisted.
Fastball – This Texas trio came to prominence with a song called “The Way” in the mid 90’s and despite a couple other minor hits and a series of solid releases remains relatively obscure. Despite their obvious Beatles influence, Fastball dabbles in almost every musical style and it’s worth noting that their big hit was actually a Rumba….on FM radio. In terms of material, Fastball was not a flash in the pan, and in many ways each album got lyrically and musically stronger. It’s hard to pick their best, and their latest release, 2009’s Little White Lies is as good as any. Fastball still tours somewhat erratically, and stays close to their home base in Texas.
Sister Hazel – Still a college campus favorite, Sister Hazel hit it big with their song “All For You” in the mid nineties, still tours mainly on the East Coast, and is a mainstay of the Rock Boat cruise. Certainly my most mainstream pick, Sister Hazel’s blend of sunny upbeat pop, tight harmonies and solid guitar work is hard to resist. They are not immune to fads and trends, and not all of Sister Hazel’s releases are stellar. For example, take their current dalliance with vacuous country-rock on Heartland Highway. That being said, Heartland Highway is way better than most vacuous country rock on the radio today, but Fortress strikes me as their most consistently solid effort. Always a good live show, and they seem like genuinely regular people.