Picks and Pans Review: Fairweather Johnson
Front man and lyricist Darius Rucker still belts out his compositions in the soulful baritone that helped sell 14 million copies of the band's '94 major-label debut, Cracked Rear View, but he has contracted a bad case of mumbleitis on this record. On some songs—"Honeyscrew," and "Fool"—he even makes Bob Dylan sound like a speech therapist. This is relevant because some, if not much, of Cracked Rear View's appeal relied on its high sing-along quotient. (Remember how fun singing "Only Wanna Be with You" was, cruising in a car?) This summer millions of Hootie fans will instead be craning their necks toward their boom boxes to decipher Rucker's cryptic delivery.
But as with Dylan, Mick Jagger and even Michael Stipe, Rucker's poor elocution doesn't subvert the music. Whether it's an uplifting rocker like the forthcoming single "Old Man & Me" or a torch song such as "So Strange," Fairweather Johnson plays like a live record, brimming with trademark Hootie harmonies, hooks, feel-good melodies and a wall of sound bound to raise goose bumps. At the very least, one can hum along to "Sad Caper," "She Crawls Away" and "Tucker's Town" because they are so infectious. To be sure, little about the band's platinum musical formula has changed. Except, of course, that you'll need a lyric sheet this time around. (Atlantic)