It’s hard to imagine anything that might strain an artist’s already-thin credibility more than dressing up like a Brokeback Mountain-ready cowboy and cheerfully singing the praises of Burger King’s Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch chicken sandwich, but such is the dilemma facing Hootie & The Blowfish with the release of Looking for Lucky, their first studio album in two years and their first recording since parting ways with Atlantic records. So it’s shocking, really, that Looking for Lucky is as good as it is. There’s nothing revolutionary in the band’s songcraft, and moving to an indie label won’t have anyone mistaking them for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but the album consists of the kind of rootsy, granola-rock that most critics fawn over when it’s released by, say, Josh Rouse, whose album Nashville is perhaps a better point of comparison for Looking for Lucky than any of the albums in Hootie & The Blowfish’s own catalog. The album boasts a more diverse sound than the monotonous frat-boy drone of their earlier efforts; the band pulls off the bluegrass-inflected “Leaving” surprisingly well, and the harder-driving “The Killing Stone” and “Hey Sister Pretty” wouldn’t sound out of place alongside recent country singles from Shooter Jennings, Hot Apple Pie, or Bobby Pinson. Frontman Darius Rucker’s baritone has acquired some ragged edges over the years that complement the most accomplished set of songs he’s ever sung, thanks in no small part to songwriting collaborators like Matraca Berg, Radney Foster, and Cowboy Mouth’s Paul Sanchez. A few of the attempts at meatier material—the 9/11 inspired “Another Year’s Gone By” wants for the comparative insight of Green Day’s “American Idiot”—flatline entirely, but Looking for Lucky has more personality than any of the MOR acts (Lifehouse, Three Doors Down, et al) who have replaced Hootie at the top of Hot AC playlists in recent years. Deep with viable singles (“Hey Sister Pretty” is as instantly catchy as was “Only Wanna Be With You”), Looking for Lucky won’t sell 16 million copies, but it could give Hootie & The Blowfish the kind of commercial relevance they haven’t had in a decade.
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