Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
“Back in the early ’90s, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” laughs drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld. “Every day, we had no idea what was coming. Every TV show was for the first time. Every radio show was for the first time. We were on page one of our musical lives. Now, 12 years later or so, we have a better idea of what we’re getting into, so the comfort level is a little higher. Playing shows and recording music always stays fresh. It’s always a joy for us.”

It’s been over a decade since South Carolina pop-rock act Hootie & The Blowfish burst out of Columbia’s cozy music scene with Cracked Rear View — their debut on Atlantic Records that went on to sell more than 16 million copies and spawned the hit singles “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” and “I Only Want to Be with You.”

Through the years, Hootie’s smooth, good ol’ boy guitar-pop sound became synonymous with the Carolina music scene. It straddled the acoustic countrified singer-songwriter and jam band corners and influenced a generation of bands — for better or worse.

“The only thing that makes us tired is the business end of it all — that side can make you a bit jaded,” says Sonefeld. “A lot of it ain’t pretty. Big, ugly record companies, the big business, and the bottom line — that stuff ain’t pretty for the artists.”

Currently on a lengthy North American tour, Hootie are due back in the Lowcountry this Friday for their annual “Homegrown Concert” on Daniel Island — an event that coincides with the official release of their fifth studio album, Looking for Lucky.

Sonefeld, lead singer-guitarist Darius Rucker, lead guitarist Mark Bryan, and bassist Dean Felber — expect some good times when they return to their home turf with a set of back-to-basics tunes.

The Homegrown Concert has become an important event for the band’s Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation, and for Hootie fans. Established in 2000, the foundation is a private nonprofit organization that regularly donates money toward music programs and educational needs at S.C. schools.

“We’re all really looking forward to this,” says Sonefeld. “Charleston is one of our favorite shows of the summer, for sure, because it’s a hometown and it’s a great venue. I know it’ll be one of our top three shows of the summer.”

The 12-song Looking for Lucky — produced by Don Gehman, who helmed the Cracked Rear View sessions — is their first on the Vanguard label. It is a twangy, organic departure from the crystal-clear guitar-pop sound that made them famous.

“This is the best feeling we’ve had in the studio since we were recording Cracked Rear View,” says Mark Bryan. “We went in and nailed all 12 tracks. Don kept us on track with his fine ear and clear vision.”

Straightforward tunes such as leadoff track “State Your Peace,” the jangly “A Smile” (co-written by The Silos’ Walter Salas-Humara), and the slightly syncopated pop-strummer “Get Out of My Mind” all maintain the familiar, Hootie-style four-chord progression with a simple melody and Rucker’s deep-voiced croon over the top of it.

Once again, Don Gehman and the band deliver solid arrangements: every drum fill is in its place; every arpeggiated guitar overdub fits nicely alongside the rhythm track; and every backing vocal fits perfectly.

Other studio guests include Hank Futch and Phillip Lammonds of the Blue Dogs family, Paul Sanchez of Cowboy Mouth, and Keith Burns of Trick Pony.

The band actually “stretches” out a bit in the more country-influenced tracks. Bryan lays down some lap steel on the slow-moving anthem “The Killing Stone.” Old Carolina colleague Sam Bush contributes some fine fiddle and mandolin parts to the rich lament “Leaving.” Nashville songwriting legend Radney Foster and guest organist Steve Nathan lend some ideas to another country-tinged pop anthem, “Another Year’s Gone By” — a song the band says was inspired by the events of 9/11.

“We decided to shelve some of the live stuff we had been recording on tour last year and go back and start writing,” says Sonefeld. “I think it’s the most important album of our career. We were happy to work with Don again. We brought in 40 or 50 songs to try out and worked it down from there. We collaborated with Radney and Walter and those guys more for their songwriting abilities than for a certain style or sound, and I think it worked. The songs made the album capture the energy of the band.”

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Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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