Perhaps now it’s safe for society to admit it, we’ve never stopped loving Hootie & the Blowfish. After 14 years without a new record, the Darius Rucker-led roots-rock outfit from South Carolina is back, in an unmistakably Hootie way, with the imminently enjoyable Imperfect Circle.
In all honesty, it should’ve been safe for Hootie lovers to be open about their adoration for the past couple of decades, but because we as a society often make it difficult to have nice things, far too many of us scooted our Hootie t-shirts and cassette copies of Cracked Rear View aside by the time this current millennium rolled around.
For those who went hoarse singing “Let Her Cry” during your weekly late- ‘90s karaoke night, Imperfect Circle will likely hit you just where you want it to. But the record isn’t a nostalgic throwback as much as it is an updated, more confident group of songs from a band that’s older and wiser about the life around them.
There’s a great deal of positivity and upbeat calls for unity and acceptance throughout the album, though not in a preachy manner. Most of the tunes are written by the band, with a bit of outside help here and there. “Hold On,” written by country writing giants Chris Stapleton and Jim Beavers lays down a soulful groove as Rucker sings “only heartbreak on the six o’clock news, they ought to call it the six o’clock blues.”
The dramatic, slowly swelling anthem “Wildfire Love” was co-written with pop king Ed Sheeran and features harmony vocals from Lucie Silvas. Should this tune find its way to country radio, there’s little that should stop it from hitting No.1. With brassy, staccato horns, “Turn It Up” is another sunny, happy-vibe packed number, as is the jaunty, hopeful “We Are One,” where Rucker sings about “a child whose eyes don’t notice black or white.”
Because of the group’s long running ubiquity on various radio formats, not to mention Rucker’s more recent success as a solo country artist, it’s perhaps all too easy to forget that Rucker is indeed a damn fine vocalist. His singing offers something that’s rarer now than ever before—a truly distinctive voice that can’t be confused with anyone else’s at any time.
Songs such as “Lonely on a Saturday Night” and “Why” would’ve fit nicely onto any of Rucker’s solo records, but with the band singing harmonies in each chorus and the beats and rhythm more prominent than usual, the effectiveness of group effort is indeed noticeable. The upbeat, chugging-forward rocker “Half a Day Ahead” is the track most resembling early-era Hootie, though, again, it feels current in this time and place with this group.
The overall sonic signature of the record isn’t that much different than that of any previous Hootie album. It’s not a stretch to say that modern country has come more to Hootie’s sound than vice versa. To put a finer point on what Imperfect Circle really sounds like, it doesn’t sound country, nor rock, as much as it simply sounds like Hootie & the Blowfish.