When you list the great seminal pop/rockers of the 1990s, bands like Dave Matthews Band, Phish, and Hootie & The Blowfish are probably occupying the top three spots in no particular order. After fronting Hootie in the 90s and early 2000s, now former frontman Darius Rucker has branched out into his own, reaching into his South Carolina roots and has delved into country music; he already has the classic twang for country music, a twang that is familiar and put Hootie on the music map. So what has the reinvention of Darius Rucker resulted in?
The end result is the long awaited country music debut, 'Learn To Live,' which came out on September 16, 2008. The album itself isn't at all groundbreaking so any remaining Hootie fans who expect Darius to break new ground like he did with Hootie when they first stormed on the seminal scene will be very disappointed and should avoid getting the CD to avoid such disappointment. The songs delve into familiar themes and habits that most country acts all share on some level or another although 'Learn to Live' is closer to a Rascal Flatts/Brad Paisley type country than a traditionalist like say
The album's buzz was first built upon the release of its first single, 'Don't Think I Don't Think About It,' a very heartfelt and poignant country single extolling the virtue of a love lost and the typical mark it leaves. The song created a buzz on country radio and like many reviewers, this reviewer agrees with the notion that out of the dozen songs on the album, this one leaves a typical Darius Rucker mark, honest, heartfelt, and just a touch of grit.
The other songs don't tread any new territory at all and even Rucker's familiar twangy baritone rasp doesn't hide that fact and he struggles to add even a small touch of his own spirit into the other eleven songs on the album. Perhaps his overreach into Rascal Flatts territory hurts the overall aim of the debut album...songs like "It Won't Be Like This For Long" is supposed to be a very touching ballad for his two young daughters and if not for the slight heartfelt touch Rucker manages to squeeze in, the musical arrangement around it ends up dumbing down the poignant lyrics.
Another great example of a song falling short and doing too much is the second song from the album, 'All I Want.' Save for one of the best country hooks not heard in years, it sounds too much like Brad Paisley, almost as if instead of Rucker singing it, it should be Paisley himself.
And then theres the oversentimentality. What made Hootie & The Blowfish different from Phish and even Dave Matthews Band was the blue-collar grit that Rucker brought in from his growing-up in South Carolina, hence his natural baritone raspy twang. The grit for the most part is missing from the album and songs like 'If I Had Wings' (vocals by traditionalist Vince Gill and bluegrass country queen Alison Krauss saves the song) and 'I Hope Thet Get to Me in Time' border on the line of making Rascal Flatts seem like traditional country, which for all respects isn't always too sunny at all. With a voice like Rucker's, songs about heartache, pain, and loss would better serve him on occasion during a future country album from him. The constant sunniness and sentimentality might grate on a few country music fans who expect more from someone as talented as Darius.
There are though a couple more gems following the hit single. Songs like 'Drinkin' and Dialin' and 'Be Wary of a Woman' definitely encompass all of Rucker's talents, which includes honest storytelling, a flair for grittiness and his baritone twang. The former talks about a late-night habit we won't get into while the latter is a masterpiece spun about the need to be free and how that need gets swept away by a girl of the dreams that can change a person for life.
Overall, the album feels a little out of place, despite the fact that Darius has obviously made a seamless and quite painless transition into country music. His great vocals aren't enough to save a bulk of the songs from being called overly sentimental and mediocre at best but theres enough gems to save the album from being called mildly disappointing. On his next country effort, he needs to focus on diversifying the emotional connection he makes with the listener and start to encompass the whole country experience or risk getting lumped in with Rascal Flatts. Don't get me wrong about Rascal, they are a great country act but call me old fashioned but country isn't all about being sentimental and sunny all the time. 'Learn to Live'
at the end of the day has its moments, but for the most part, the songs fall way too short of Darius' music IQ, which is a lot higher than the musical arrangement and even the lyrics at times show and tries to do too much.
Name: "Learn to Live "
Label: Capitol Nashville
Release Date: September 16, 2008
My rating: 3.8 out of 5
Alan Ho is the chief head of Musiqtone.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this feedback form below.