August 12, 2002 12:00 PM

Darius Rucker (Hidden Beach)

He never much liked being called Hootie, and now he doesn’t sound like he ever swam in the same pond as the Blowfish. For his surprising solo debut, Rucker largely forgoes the jamming blues-rock of his longtime band (which he still fronts) in favor of neo-soulful pop tinged with jazz, folk, gospel and classic R & B. (Perhaps that’s why Atlantic Records, which last year was supposed to release this disc, decided to pass instead.)

The new Rucker even calls on Jill Scott’s production posse, A Touch of Jazz, for five tracks, including a sexy-cool duet with Scott herself. Other R & B collaborators include Ryan Toby from City High, Jimmy Cozier and Musiq, who sings backup on the shimmering, Seal-esque “Exodus.” However, Rucker could have done without bringing in gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg for his unconvincing (and unnecessary) hip-hop turn, “Sleeping in My Bed.” Despite this and a few other missteps—including an uninspired contemporary Christian number preceded by an a cappella bit of “Amazing Grace”—give Rucker credit for at least temporarily moving beyond that Hootie sound.

Bottom Line: A respectable soul-o effort

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