Hootie & the Blowfish Make A Stirring Soulful Debut
The music of Hootie & the Blowfish gets its charge from rock 'n' roll, but it's grounded in the blues. The quartet got together when its members were party-happy students at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. Lead singer Darius Rucker says the band was formed "to make a bit of money, drink a few beers and meet a lot of girls." That was nine years ago. On their major label debut, Cracked Rear View (Atlantic), the band still plays with frat-party swagger - big, bearish guitar work, brawny drumming - but Rucker's expressive, doleful vocals reveal an admirably serious intent.
There are difficult emotions here. On the sweeping, sorrowful song Let Her Cry, Rucker sings about a relationship on the rocks, ruined by drugs and alcohol. On the mournful Not Even the Trees, grief hangs from his vocals like a shroud as he tells of going home after his mother's death. The album's most powerful moment is Drowning, a song brimming with bewildered outrage. The band is an interracial one - Rucker is black and his bandmates white - and the group uses this song to address the illogical, sometimes unfathomable nature of racism. "Why is a rebel flag hanging from the statehouse walls?" Rucker sings. Later, his voice jagged with defiance, he declares, "When I walk down the street, tell me what do you see? I'm a man, I'm a man, I'm a man."
The arrangements and production of the songs on Cracked Rear View are a bit too smooth - the blues are in the band's soul, and that would have been better reflected by music with a rawer, less processed feel. But on every song, Rucker's vocals are marvelously commanding. Low, rough and charismatic, his voice can convey depths of feeling that would do a true bluesman proud.