Song Review: Hootie and The Blowfish, “Hold On”

A defunct rock band coming back from a decade-long hiatus to jump in country music? At this point, why the heck not?

Country music may have its flaws, but it’s still the destination for wannabe George Straits who have already made their mark elsewhere. Everyone from Sheryl Crow to Justin Bieber to Lil Nas X has “gone country” this year, so it’s no surprise to see 90s-era band Hootie And The Blowfish appear as well, especially since lead singer Darius Rucker has already been making noise here for over a decade. The band has a new album Imperfect Circle coming in November, and have released “Hold On” as the leadoff single for the project. While the track feels a little half-baked given the time they had to fix it (especially in the writing), there’s enough sunshine here to make this a fairly pleasant listen.

Whatever flaws the song has, at least the production gets the feel right, giving the track a real vibrancy in support of its subject matter. The primary instrument here is an electric guitar whose tone is a surprising combination of depth and brightness, the sort of axe that you’d usually see on something that’s darker or more brooding. Instead, it gives off a surprising optimism here, and when combined with an atmospheric organ and an energetic drum set, it creates an uplifting vibe that perfectly complements the subject matter and almost makes you ignore had vapid the lyrics actually are (more on that later). I hesitate to call this song uptempo, but the way the guitars drive it forward gives it the illusion of speed and provide the buoyancy needed to keep the track from bogging down. Sure, it’s just empty sonic calories in the end, but at least the track owns that description and leaves you smiling when it’s all over.

Rucker’s natural charisma and smooth delivery translated seamlessly over to country music, so it’s no surprise that they shine through here as well. The performance is a solid one technically, with Rucker showing off good range and enough flow to keep the writing from falling apart, but it’s the emotional connection that’s key here: Anyone can tell you to “hold on” and that things will get better, but only a select few can actually make you believe it. Although Rucker may not be on the same level as Carrie Underwood, he’s still one of the more effective communicators in the genre, and after hearing the warmth and texture in his voice, you can’t help but notice the silver linings around the clouds. (Where Rucker’s voice is distinctive, however, the rest of the Blowfish don’t really stand out in either their harmonies or instrumental work, to the point where it feels like this whole thing could have been done with session players without affecting the result.) Overall, Rucker acquits himself quite well here, and while the rest of the band is merely present, at least they don’t get in the way of the song’s message.

It’s a good thing Rucker is such a talented artist, because the lyrics here don’t give the man a lot to work with. At its core, this is basically a less-vivid, less-powerful version of Underwood’s “Love Wins,” with the narrator telling their partner (and by extension the world) to “hold on” through all the sorrow and negativity that surround them. My big issue with the words is that there really aren’t enough of them: None of the lines seem long enough to actually fill out the song, leaving Rucker to either drag out the syllables or cut things short and leave a bunch of awkward pauses and blank spots in their place. As clever as the opening six o’ clock news tries to be, the song is mostly vague and generic, not really offering any specifics as to what badness is going on and saying that love is enough to weather the storm. Without the  aura and dramatic presence of something like Underwood, you really can’t get away with this sort of generic non-solution, and as hard as Rucker and the producer work to keep you from looking behind the curtain, it feels like this song needed to go through a few more drafts before entering the studio.

Despite having so little to say, however, “Hold On” is a decent enough song to listen to thanks to its ebullient production and a strong vocal performance from Darius Rucker, and while it makes the return of the Hootie And The Blowfish feel like just another Rucker solo project, it’s not a development that I mind seeing. The path from other genres to country music is well-worn, and there’s nothing here to outrage or offend anyone here—in fact, it might make you feel a little bit better about the world. It’s not much, but as I continuously tell my students when I tell them to turn in assignments, something is better than nothing.

(They still don’t turn them in though.)

Rating: 6/10. Give this one a few spins and see if it makes you feel better.

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