There should be little mystery surrounding why the adult mainstream loved Hootie and the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View: the group makes non-threatening music that is easy to receive and blends folk and rock into a happy amalgamation. That formula worked on the group’s 16-million-copy-selling 1994 release and their latest, eponymous LP seems to revise that formula, with a little less pop and a little more rock.

Strong guitar melodies frame Hootie and few other instruments add much else to the album’s musical character. Singer Darius Rucker (who is definitely not Hootie) does, however, let his soul glow, so to speak, by singing with a conviction and embedded meaning that make his voice stand out and his lyrics engaging. While he will likely not ascend anytime soon to the rarified echelon in which one might find Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Rucker sings admirably on this record and makes his microphone persona as much a part of the Hootie experience as any other sonic element, even those guitars.

The best guitar riff can be found on “Deeper Side” while the emotionally sweeping “Innocence” contains a wonderfully varied guitar melody that will surely interest music fans that appreciate instrumentation.

The album’s best song is “When She’s Gone,” a track with great pathos and a slower pace that lends it even more significance. It is on this piece that Rucker’s emergence as a stronger vocalist is most recognizable.

Hootie is not a straight rock and roll album, though. The subdued-ska-sounding “Little Brother” and the folksy “Little Darlin'” both temper the record’s rock influences and, as already mentioned, Hootie’s signature sound is inherently lighter than more standard “rock” acts.

Those who were enamored of Hootie following their flirtations with Dan Marino and Alonzo Mourning will definitely enjoy Hootie. However, this record may also attract fans of a lighter rock that is not totally day-time radio worthy, but also far from the heavier sounds made by the media darling rock bands that rose to prominence in recent years.

Rating: Two and a half stars.

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