*** (out of four)
Darius Rucker’s demeanor just feels comfortable. You can guess right away this guy is a dad. That breezy, worn-in feeling was the kind of thing that made his band Hootie and the Blowfish an object of ridicule at times, but it's an asset for Rucker as an artist making country music--a genre that often celebrates the familiar.
Case in point: The breakout single from Rucker's third solo country album, “True Believers,” is the Bob Dylan/Old Crow Medicine Show cover “Wagon Wheel.” It's a well-known song, but Rucker makes it his own, his rugged voice giving it a sense of experience lacking in the OCMS version. It's also become the highest-charting single of his career.
That sense of familiarity is even better suited to exploring minor quotidian joys and losses, whether he's singing about throwing a football with his son on “Take Me Home” or dissecting a marriage that's lost its spark on “Miss You.” Three songs about the fear of a lover leaving – “Lie To Me,” “Heartbreak Road” and “I Will Love You Still,” which features up-and-comer Mallary Hope – give the album's latter half a gut-punching immediacy. Rucker is astute in his treatment of the details that turn songs from vague platitudes into crush ballads.
The downside is that his dad vibes make him sound like, well, a dad when he tries to embrace a party vibe on a song like “Radio” or to deliver a clunky love ballad like “Lost In You.” On the other hand, not many singers could pull off the total schmaltz of a marriage ode like opener and highlight “True Believers.” (Excerpt: “We are one heartbeat in the darkness/we are one lasting answered prayer.”) Over piercing guitars and a brief string interlude that together demand some lighter-waving, his voice is warm and empathetic, a convincing argument for settling in to a comfortable place.
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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