There are basically two ways to review a covers record. You can listen to it as simply another new album by the artist under consideration, or you can examine each cover and compare/contrast it with the original version of the same song. Thumbing through my personal collection, I was pleased to find that I had most of the original songs covered on Hootie & the Blowfish’s new Scattered, Smothered & Covered. Comparing covers with the originals is, of course, a subjective process; new versions of old faves tend to be jarring for the first few listens.
The Hootie covers here are neither rote repetition nor complete reinventions of the originals. But two general observations can easily be made: (1) Hootie & the Blowfish don’t embarrass themselves with these covers; and (2) this is one fine collection of songs, from the likes of Foster & Lloyd, the Reivers, Tom Waits, Vic Chesnutt, and the Silos. Hootie’s renditions are at worst worthwhile efforts, and at best strong competitors with the originals.
Viewed simply as a new Hootie album, it holds together surprisingly well, especially considering that it was pieced together from a variety of sources (including soundtracks, tribute albums, live recordings and unreleased studio takes). For the most part, Darius Rucker avoids the over-emoting and the slurry/bellowing vocals that detract from some songs on Hootie’s other albums. His warm baritone, properly restrained, brings a great deal to the table when interpreting other artists’ material.
Guests bring some welcome variety as well. About half the songs feature additional vocals from the likes of Nanci Griffith, Gena Rankin, Edwin McCain, Susan Cowsill and the Walker Sisters. That variety, along with the strong undercurrents of blues and country flowing through this album, combine to make this an unusually strong effort.