A lot happened to Hootie & the Blowfish between 2005's Looking for Lucky and 2019, but most of it can be boiled down to this: Darius Rucker became a country star in 2008. He had his first Country Airplay that year with "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," then five years later, he had a crossover smash with a cover of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel," thereby cementing his commercial viability outside of the confines of Hootie & the Blowfish. The separation wasn't acrimonious. The group got together occasionally to play charity shows or to bid adieu to David Letterman, but they didn't officially reunite until their debut album, Cracked Rear View, reached its 25th anniversary in 2019. To celebrate, they launched a tour and recorded a brand-new album called Imperfect Circle. Working with producers Jeff Trott and Frank Rogers (the latter penned and helmed some early solo hits for Rucker), Hootie manage to strike a nice blend between the group's signature college rock singalongs and Rucker's slick, cheerful solo work. The surface of Imperfect Circle is every bit as slick as a big-budget project coming out of the Music City -- not for nothing is this released on Capitol Nashville -- but the band doesn't take any left turns into honky tonks, not even when they record "Hold On," a song co-written by Chris Stapleton. Instead, they ease into the sunny slipstream that lies between country and roots rock, relying on happy and comfortable hooks that make the 13 songs on Imperfect Circle feel instantly familiar. Such coziness was latent on Cracked Rear View and turned into Darius Rucker's calling card as he carved out a career in Nashville, so it suits the middle-aged Hootie & the Blowfish quite well; they prefer to laugh about the good old days instead of trying to re-live them. This friendliness lends itself to a collection of songs that are resolutely sturdy, designed to sound more charming over time, and the inherent warmth of Imperfect Circle is reason enough to give the tunes a chance to grow. After all, it offers a mighty good time: it's a reunion that conjures the spirit of the past without succumbing to nostalgia.
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