As they close in on three decades of being in a band together, alt-rock five-piece Sister Hazel are as focused on creativity and experimentation as ever. Later in December, the band will release a 16-track project called Before the Amplifiers 2 (Live & Acoustic With Strings), which was recorded during a pandemic-era livestream performance and includes a string quartet.

"It really adds different colors than we've ever had on a record, so it's very exciting," lead vocalist Ken Block tells Taste of Country.

Structured as a setlist for a live audience, the new project features a selection of the band's greatest hits from over the years, as well as a few never-before-recorded songs that fans might only have encountered in live or special settings. The songs come from different eras of the band's storied career, though all of them are appearing in an entirely new context, presented acoustically and against a string arrangement.

That means that many of the songs on the project have taken on a whole new life, even though the group may have been performing them for decades. But for many of the tracks, Block explains, the string arrangements fit in seamlessly. Case in point: "Champagne High," which the frontman wrote and which the band released in 2000.

That track premieres exclusively via Taste of Country on Friday (Dec. 3); get a first listen of the song in the video below.

Despite the new arrangement, though, Block says that this iteration of "Champagne High" actually aligns pretty closely with the vision he had for the song when we wrote it all those years ago.

"It lines up fairly well, it just feels different," he reflects. "Sonically, before, instead of getting some of the power out of the guitars, you're now getting it from this big string section. And it just taps into a little bit different of an emotional pinpoint inside of you. There's something really warm, and the vibration of those strings kinda rattles your emotions a little bit differently than guitars."

Of course, one of the biggest differences in this version was simply the fact that the band performed it with more people on stage, and people they hadn't ever worked with before. Block says that the newness of what they were doing — the fact that it was an unusual experience both for Sister Hazel and for the string players — lent an electricity and excitement to their performance.

"We don't do that every day. They don't do what we were doing every day. So to find that symmetry and interplay between us was really fun," he continues. "They really brought excitement and enthusiasm...it just feels different when you're sonically sounding different and you have different human energy up there."

But "Champagne High" was especially poignant a selection for this performance because it's always been a collaboration, even in the initial 2000 recording.

"It's really interesting to note that when we recorded this the first time, we brought in Emily Saliers from Indigo Girls," Block points out. "It brought this other musician that we have the utmost respect for, and to kinda see how she was gonna weave a path through and make things lift — I mean, she brought it, and brought tears to our eyes."

"So this was similar," he adds. "In that we brought in another group of musicians that could bring something that none of us could bring, and it was the same sort of child-like enthusiasm, to recreate something that has meant a lot to us for so long."

Before the Amplifiers 2 (Live & Acoustic With Strings) will be out in full on Dec. 10. You can also catch Sister Hazel on a Christmas tour with Phil Vassar this holiday season.

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