Guests on third country set include Lady Antebellum and Sheryl Crow
Several years ago, I interviewed Darius Rucker as Hootie & The Blowfish’s third album was coming out. He talked about how anyone could make a first album, the second one would happen if your first one did OK, but if you got to make a third album, then you had a career. By that point, you probably had enough hits under your belt that fans and radio really had started to believe in you as an artist.
And so tomorrow (May 20), Darius Rucker puts out “True Believers,” his third country album as a solo artist (he put out a pop solo album during his Hootie days that I’m not counting here). And his words have proven true once again.
There are a lot of reasons for Rucker’s country success: Perhaps, most importantly, his timing was impeccable. Many of Hootie fans from the ‘90s have migrated to country radio since what country radio plays now much more closely approximates what they were listening to then than today’s Top 40. Also, despite having sold millions of records, Rucker approached the country format with the humility of a brand new artist. He went to every radio station, shook every hand, kissed every baby, and never, ever acted as if his multi-platinum pop success gave him any kind of leg up. Furthermore, unlike many of the pop carpetbaggers who just happened to declare their love of country when their pop career dried up, Rucker really did grow up listening to country music. You don’t want to go against him in a conversation about Merle Haggard or George Jones’ catalog. You will lose.
And then, of course, there’s the music. As he shows again on “True Believers,” he has established himself as a country artist who loves singing about his kids and his family, which makes him 100% the same as every other country act, but he does it with a lighthearted honesty that resonates. On the title track, which peaked at No. 24 on the Country Songs Chart, he admits that even though “we are one, now and forever,” there have been difficult times in his marriage. On “Miss You,” he sings about longing for the person who shares a bed with him, yet feels so far away. Maybe he just sells these ideas better than other artists even though he’s mining the same territory.
Second single, the good-timey, jaunty “Wagon Wheel,” a remake of the Old Crow Medicine Show tune, featuring backing vocals by Lady Antebellum, hit No. 1. and with good reason. It’s a charming, toe-tapping slice of Americana that doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio. “Take Me Home” has the same roots/gospel feel (and a rollicking piano bed) that recalls The Band.
Other highlights include “Love Without You,” a stripped-down ballad about trying to move on featuring Sheryl Crow. There’s a nice, jazzy piano touch on the tune. “Heartbreak Road” is another peppy trip down those Carolina highways and byways he loves so much with a flirty, catchy twist.
Rucker throws in a soulfulness and bluesy touch on many of the songs. “Leavin’ The Light On” starts with “A Rainy Night In Georgia” feel before seguing into praising nocturnal activities. “I feel like I ought to tip my hat to the man upstairs” for his wife agreeing to leave the light on may be a bit of a lyrical stretch, but we’re sure many men may try to convince their wives that it’s the godly thing to do now. “Radio,” a upbeat reminiscence about controlling the car radio, has an irresistible funky back beat that should be a summer single.
Rucker’s music isn’t challenging or particularly deep, but from his star’s perch, he still manages to touch on the mundane aspects of quotidian life in a way that seems totally genuine and relatable whether you’re a CEO or a fork-lift driver. That could be an even bigger gift than his gritty, instantly recognizable vocals.