Hootie & The Blowfish were a big deal back in the 90s. Their debut album Cracked Rear View, released in 1994, was certified 2x Diamond in the US (aka 21x Platinum) and their 1996 follow-up Fairweather Johnson hit 3x Platinum. The band even made some headway in the UK with the albums selling Gold and Silver respectively. Frontman Darius Rucker released a solo album in 2002 but it didn’t really catch on and the band reunited for two more studio albums. After that though, Darius made a switch to Country music and he’s had huge success in that genre. 14 years since their last album, Hootie & The Blowfish are back with new album Imperfect Circle.
For Imperfect Circle Hootie & The Blowfish have married together their world, rootsy rock, by enlisting producer Jeff Trot with Darius’ move to Country by enlisting producer Frank Rogers. The end result is a project that straddles both the band’s signature sound and Darius’ solo work. That inevitably leaves the album hanging in a Country/Rock zone and to be honest you could call it either. I was always a Hootie fan but oddly have never particularly cared for Darius’ work as a solo artist so it’s with some surprise that I really like this record.
The album starts off strong with New Year’s Day, a thumping beat-driven track co-written by Eric Paslay, who features throughout the record. It’s like the band has picked up from where they left off and there’s something about hearing them back together that’s actually a little thrilling. I’d never deny that Darius is a great vocalist but when he’s back with the band, there’s something much more interesting to sink your teeth (and ears) into. The first highlight on the album comes on Wildfire Love, a song co-written by Country singer Joel Crouse and the omnipresent Ed Sheeran. It features Lucie Silvas on harmony vocals and it could well be the best track here. The mix of genres works well and when Silvas’ vocals kick in, the song kicks things up a notch.
Elsewhere on the record Chris Stapleton lends a hand on the catchy Hold On, Sheryl Crow provides backing vocals on the reggae-lite Turn It Up (and she appears on two other tracks as well), and the groove-laden Lonely on a Saturday Night finds the band sounding a little looser. The band shines on the three tracks they wrote without any outside influence. The storming rock-feel of Half a Day Ahead makes for a memorable listen, the tropical We Are One takes you back to sunnier times, and album closer Change allows Darius’ voice to shine with more stripped-down production.
There are a couple of songs on the record that breeze by with little impact. Why is perfectly serviceable but you’ll struggle to bring it to mind after it finishes and the same is true for the mid-tempo Everybody But You. At 13 tracks long, the album could have perhaps benefitted from trimming those two.
Imperfect Circle should keep Hootie fans happy and it’ll likely bring some of Darius’ audience over to the band’s fanbase. It’s an interesting fusion of the two different worlds that Darius has straddled over the years and for the most part its successful. It does make you wonder if Darius might bring Hootie & The Blowfish to C2C when he plays his headline set in March.
Track list: 1. New Year’s Day 2. Miss California 3. Wildfire Love 4. Hold On 5. Turn It Up 6. Not Tonight 7. We Are One 8. Everybody But You 9. Lonely On A Saturday Night 10. Why 11. Rollin’ 12. Half a Day Ahead 13. Change Record label: Snakefarm Records Release date: 1st November 2019 Buy Imperfect Circle