Hootie Goes Country

Learn to Live (Capitol)
Darius Rucker

By Hunter Embry

In 1995, Hootie & the Blowfish, catapulted by their debut album, Cracked Rear View, changed the face of popular rock music. This year, lead singer Darius Rucker recently found himself atop the country music scene with his new album, Learn to Live, which sold 60,000 copies in its first week.

Rucker is the first black solo artist to obtain the spot since Charlie Pride in 1983. His new Nashville sound doesn't deviate far from the country format of the last two decades simple lyrics representative of today's working class, heightened by a catchy, repetitive chorus and pushed along by big rock drums, and a plethora of twanged guitars.

"Don't Think I Don't Think About It," the album's first single, which also reached No. 1 in September, showcases Rucker's thick, low-end voice, which doesn't wail as hard as some of his older material but which bears a thin resemblance to country singer Tim McGraw. Like many of McGraw's hit's, Rucker panders through thoughts of love lost but assures that he still thinks about what was and what could've been.

More bitter feelings toward a lost relationship are described in "All I Want," a classic, upbeat, bar-room honky-tonk with a hiccuping fiddle, complimented by bend-y lead guitars played by Brad Paisley.

Paisley isn't the only big name to have a hand in Learn to Live: Country greats Allison Krauss and Vince Gill provide backup vocals on the acoustic ballad "If I Had Wings." Rucker's voice sits nicely above the harmonizing vocals of Gill and Krauss, but it's not as powerful as one would think. A beautifully toned banjo and slide guitar are seasoned throughout, but such a star-studded song lacks the emotion invested in the rest of the album.

However, Learn to Live takes an upbeat swing with the comedic "Drinkin' and Dialin' Again," where Rucker talks about calling up friends and old booty calls after he's had too much to drink. After all, what kind of good country album doesn't have a song or two about harmless binge drinking?

"While I Still Got the Time" narrates through optimistic, middle-aged lyrics about life and enjoying the moment, while still keeping to the roots with a slide guitar that is mixed just loud enough to drown out the bartender's shouts for "last call."

Learn to Live doesn't sound like Hootie & the Blowfish and it sure as hell won't sell nearly 20 million copies like Cracked Rear View, but the two albums have one thing in common, which is a talented and soulful singer. Rucker writes well and sings better, which is why his baritone will continue to sell and be heard in a country business that is in desperate need of something fresh.

Find more atwww.dariusrucker.com.