Album Review: Fairweather Johnson
Even when the Hootie backlash started swirling sometime around the twenty-sixth or twenty-seventh hit single off of Cracked Rear View, it seemed cruel to really bash these boys. I mean, they're harmless. While they're sound is somewhat generic, they cite good influences, and have remained gracious and amiable throughout their rise. And humble. When they shared a stage with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen late last year in Northern California, lead Hootie Darius Rucker said his band was way out of its league. They WERE way out of their league, yet they received the greatest response of the evening and probably sold more records that day alone than the other artists did the entire year. With the new Fairweather Johnson, it could very easily happen again.
Johnson is just about exactly what you'd expect from the brothers of Delta Kappa Nice Guy. It's no flop, but there are no real surprises or artistic leaps either. The rich, husky-voiced Rucker again demonstrates his ability to make every vocal passage emote the same troubled-but-hopeful sentiments. The vibe is only slightly different on such opposite-minded endeavors as the breezy, Cajun pop of "She Crawled Away" and the quiet, contemplative "Earth Stopped Cold at Dawn," an ode to the passing of Rucker's grandmother. Musically, the record peeks around corners into several musical arenas: there's the alt-rock riffing of "Be the One" and "Honeyscrew," the southern soul of "Let it Breathe" and "Tucker's Town," and shades of R.E.M. jangle, Petty-ish Americana, gospel, and front-porch folkiness throughout. But in the end, Johnson remains in the warm and fuzzy rock/soul safe place Hootie calls home.
The Blowfish assemble American rock like the Eagles once did country music in the '70s and '80s. It's all very pleasant, very digestible. But once in a while you'd love to see them roll the dice and take a chance. You'd love to see what makes them tick deep down, like maybe if they rolled the tape at a moment of rage or vulnerability. Of course, when you're selling millions of records, making videos with your favorite sports heroes, and all together living out an American dream, who has time for rage and vulnerability?