Hootie and the Blowfish, ‘Hootie and the Blowfish’ (Atlantic) ; Ben Harper, ‘Diamonds on the Inside’ (Virgin)
In 2001, singer Darius “Don’t Call Me Hootie” Rucker went to the moon. Leaving the echt dad-rock of his once-multiplatinum Blowfish behind, he recorded an R&B solo album called The Return of Mongo Slade, which was eventually de-weirded and released on an indie label with the far-less-advanced title Back to Then. Crickets chirped, John Mayer moved in next door, and there went the neighborhood, Pops.
Father’s Day came early this year. Though the cheap seats have gotten closer recently, and the state fairs have beckoned, the Hootsters still have enough stroke in the Southeast to host their own golf tournament, so this Don Was production isn’t exactly a comeback bid. But with “Innocence,” the self-titled album’s first single, the Blowfish return to the fusion of Carolina beach music and classic rock that made them famous. Not that Rucker’s gotten R&B out of his system–on “Little Brother,” he wraps that unlikely baritone around the lingo of the streets, warning youngsters he catches “flossing” that you get out of life what you put into it. Like the record’s oddly affecting ballads (“I’ll Come Runnin'”) and competent rockers (“Go and Tell Him (Soup Song)”),”Brother” is so goofy–and dadlike–that you have two choices: 1) feel superior; 2) untuck your polo shirt and just feel it.
Ben Harper, on the other hand, wants everybody’s attention. Through near-constant touring over the past decade, Harper has built a diverse following among Phish phans, born-late Parrotheads, and,yes, dads, all of whom he’s clearly determined to please. During the first 15 minutes of Diamonds on the Inside, he lurches from reggae (“With My Own Two Hands”) to the bloozy slide-guitar stomps that were his stock-in-trade before 1999’s breakthrough hit “Steal My Kisses” to 1970s Dylan (the title track). The only constant is Harper’s Cat Stevens-style tenor, at its Tea for the Tillerman-est on “When She Believes,” in which he thanks God for a good woman’s support as accordions wheeze and strings swirl. Let its memory sustain you through the Lenny Kravitz rip-offs and misguided funk workouts that follow. Harper’s a master of no genre. But when it comes to expressing raw, please-love-me-like-you-love-Blues Traveler emotion, he’s your daddy.