By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


August 23, 2005

Hootie & the Blowfish
"Looking for Lucky"
Sneaky Long/Vanguard

Perhaps the Hooties would get more respect if they hadn't grabbed the gold ring in their first try: the 16 million-seller "Cracked Rear View" in 1994. After all, any subsequent sales total less than that would be deemed a failure. And that's what happened.

A decade-plus into their recording career, singer Darius Rucker and friends have returned with their first studio album in two years, "Looking for Lucky," on their own label, Sneaky Long Records. Perhaps they should have left the Y off "Lucky."

For while the band trumpets new directions and sounds -- bluegrass and country, outside co-writers -- it also hastens to add that these elements have been Hootiefied. The Hootiefier is longtime producer Don Gehman, who has sanded off all of the edges.

So they sound like . . . themselves on 12 songs that mostly exist at the same volume and tempo, asking the question: Can't we all just get along?

"Another Year's Gone By," co-written by the band and alt-country artist Radney Foster, sounds like any other Hootie song while asking God: "Why are we fighting if you're on everybody's side?"

"Smile," written with Walter Salas Humara of the Silos, fades after a fast start: "They pulled the switch/that sent me far/Into the rich and distant stars/And bounced me back into your car/Returning with a smile."

And Sam Bush and John Cowan of New Grass Revival give "Leaving" an acoustic, homey vibe that is a welcome change of pace. The final cut, "Waltz Into Me," continues that sound.

But these are exceptions to Hootie's trademark bass-guitar-drums attack, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's like a bowl of hot oatmeal on a cold day: familiar and comfortable, but not so special.