Hootie's 1994 debut, "Cracked Rear View," sold an estimated 15 million copies because it offered a return to classic '60s and '70s pop-rock values at a time when the focus of the record industry was on the harsher, often alienating sounds of alternative rock and hip-hop. This wasn't music that was ambitious or original, but Hootie fans found comfort in the South Carolina bar band's unassuming tones.

You could picture someone listening to Hootie in a bar, and shooting the breeze with singer Darius Rucker at the end of the set. There was a sweet, melancholy feel in the music that acknowledged life's ups and downs without making you really think too deeply about them.

With its second album, 1996's "Fairweather Johnson," Hootie & the Blowfish was still at the same old stand. Sales dropped substantially, suggesting that lots of customers had moved on to another bar, maybe the one presenting Matchbox 20, another band that draws on familiar, mainstream pop-rock strains--but with a little more edge.

This time out, Hootie is hoping fans will stop by for a homecoming. Two of the most appealing songs have to do with family ties and getting back together. One--the sentimental "Home Again"--even sounds like something from a John Denver album. Mostly, however, it's just more of the same. Ultimately, Hootie simply isn't a band with the daring or depth to make it matter much after closing time.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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