Darius Rucker successfully reinvented himself a few ago from a pop singer and leader of Hootie & the Blowfish to a solo country singer. That”s no easy feat given that other mainstream artists like Jessica Simpson tried to make the transition and failed miserably. “Learn to Live” scored him three No. 1 hits and he was named, without the slightest trace of irony, as the CMA Awards” top new artist last year.
He stays the course on his second Capitol Nashville album, “Charleston, S.C. 1966,” as first single, “Come Back Song,” is already No. 3 on Billboard”s Country Songs chart.
His voice is soulful, fluid and so smooth that he sounds great singing anything (more about that later). Plus, he proves himself way more country than many format longtimers, as he generously sprinkles mandolin, fiddle and pedal steel throughout many of the tunes, especially the jaunty “Love Will Do That.”
Rucker”s sweet spot (and it”s not one he strays from much here) is his penchant for capturing details about every day life in a real, truthful way that makes you nod your head and say, “I”ve been there.” Couples fight, such as on “I Got Nothin”,” but instead of coming up with a magical quip, as they often do in song, Rucker is “just blank/I”m staring into space/praying ‘please, please let me think of something.”” On “Whiskey and You,” he can”t leave his woman or his liquor (there”s a superior tune about the same subject, “Tequila and You” on Kenny Chesney”s new album, “Hemingway”s Whiskey.”). He”s a man trapped by his own desires.
Those desires pervade other tunes on the album as well, some less successfully. The hokey “Might Get Lucky” is an ungainly tune (although possibly 100% true) about how hard it is for married men with little kids to get themselves a little sumthin-sumthin. Given that Rucker co-wrote this with one of his musical heroes, the great Radney Foster, I”m surprised there”s not a little more sense of irony and a wink in the song as he sings, “There”s a window of opportunity between when the kids are tucked in and I have a glass of Chardonnay.” The underlying message is to “treat her right in the daylight.” (In another nod to Foster, Rucker”s album title is a tribute to Foster”s fine 1992 album, titled “Del Rio, TX 1959” after his birth place and year.)
Conversely, even though it borders on novelty, Rucker”s duet with Brad Paisley (co-written with Paisley), “I Don”t Know” is hilarious as the two, growing drunker as the song progresses, pokes fun at themselves and males” baser instincts as they don”t care whether “they”re real or fake” or which one takes the blonde, brunette or redhead.
He overdoes it on a few songs, such as album ender “In a Big Way,” where he needs “some hanging around my little town/In a big way.” There”s a good song there about life on the road and his desires (“Sometimes I want to be George Jones/Sometimes Charley Pride”) in there, but he ladles it on a little thick when he talks about what he misses. Sweet tea is the only thing missing. Oh, wait. That drink makes its appearance in “Southern State of Mind.” (As a transplanted Southerner, I do love the line about being polite).
The few lyrical quibbles aside, Rucker has a strong command of country music and what makes a fine country song. And unlike many contemporary country artists, he isn”t afraid to make something sound country with no chance of pop crossover. HIs cliches are easily forgiven.