Hootie & the Blowfish is a touchstone of the very best of 90s joy and nostalgia, and the last thing I wanted to hear from their latest album “Imperfect Circle” was something that was a pale reflection of their former selves. To my utmost pleasure, from the very first track I knew this wouldn’t be the case. Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim Sonefeld may be older, but they seem to have lived the kinds of lives we can all only hope for because the bright happiness that fueled their music over the past three decades hasn’t faded in the least. “Imperfect Circle” is among the very best of Hootie & the Blowfish, and that means it’s 43 minutes of laid-back country jam-rock anyone would enjoy.
Categorizing Hootie & the Blowfish’s style of music has always been a challenge. Since they debuted in the early 90s, the band’s sound has been called roots rock, jangle pop and folk rock, none of which really capture the unique blend of influences in their music. Anyone familiar with jam bands will undoubtedly hear their style included as well, throughout the many fluid, drawn-out guitar licks and hypnotic rhythms. “Imperfect Circle” takes the country credentials Darius Rucker has earned over his past five solo albums and puts them to use in new tracks like “Wildfire Love,” a duet with Lucie Silvas which quickly became one of my favorites.
“New Year’s Day” is a great opening track for this album, since it sounds exactly what’s probably going through your head right before you hit play on the track itself. It’s peak Hootie & the Blowfish, meaning that the song is catchy, upbeat and comfortable in its own skin. “Everybody But You” is similar in that it sounds like it could easily be from any of their first few albums. There are still stretchy guitar solos, goofy lyrics and honest sentiments all over these tracks. The mix of old-school tunes like these with more polished country-inspired songs is interesting and feels like an organic growth of their style from the 90s.
“Not Tonight” is a great example of the country/rock blend that Hootie & the Blowfish has become so good at. This song fits right at home with those of Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney, while never straying so far country as to feel disingenuous. Other mid-album tracks such as “Turn It Up” and “We Are One” feel almost unfinished, with catchy hooks and well-produced beats, but not enough writing to turn them in to more than afterthoughts.
“Rollin” is a stand out track toward the end of the album. It’s almost a classic rock song in the vein of Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Marshall Tucker Band, thanks to its long guitar spotlights and driving vocals.
“Don't know about you, but I could sure use
A little more salt in my breeze
A little less work, a little more play
A little more sway in my trees”
If simple and classic is what they were going for, they hit it dead on. I was honestly surprised to hear this kind of music from the band, which I had clearly underestimated not just in their longevity, but also their musical range.
Everything about “Imperfect Circle” feels joyous, while the album as a whole is strangely out of time and completely refreshing. It’s the embodiment of the comfortable college pop rock scene of the 90s we all kind of wish we were there in person to experience. The music is crisp and confident, comprised of a strange mix of jam band riffs, blues rock and modern country sensibilities. This album may be out of time for this decade, but it’s not because the style wore out its welcome. Rather, it’s because we are so unaccustomed to music that’s as laid back and unpretentious as Hootie & the Blowfish. They were unique in the 90s, and after 14 years, it’s good to be able to fall back into that groove again.