Hard to believe that eight years ago, Hootie and the Blowfish was the biggest band in the world and that they became that without any sort of trend or manufactured hype behind them. Five albums under their belt — Atlantic issued their first eponymous album three months ago — and they still appear to be an unassuming bar band from South Carolina, albeit one that hasn’t written a song as catchy as “Let Her Cry” since their debut.
They are assimilators. Their strength is an ability to blend an assortment of easy-going musical references and then create something inviting. That it has become a rather bland melange of folk-rock peppered in places with ’60s rock harmonies, a New Orleans rhythm, bluegrass or Memphis R&B seems like it was inevitable — that debut, “Cracked Rear View,” was an attempt to write 11 hit singles, and somehow, they darn near succeeded. Doing it again is a near impossibility, so they rely on an engaging spirit that hasn’t seemed to change since the mid-1990s.
Two new songs put Hootie in its best possible light Thursday. Perfumed by mid-’60s melodic rock, “The Rain Song” showcases Darius Rucker’s commanding tenor-baritone sweetly buoyed by persistent harmonies; it has a distinct catchiness that’s almost non-Hootie-esque. The bouncy “Little Brother” dips its toe in reggae water and then wades in ’70s R&B until Rucker bursts into Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star.” Perf was going along great until a guest rapper appeared and threw out every ’90s cliche during his boasts. Made one wonder — wasn’t Hootie popular in the first place because it was so far removed from hip-hop? It may be the one genre where assimilation won’t work.