Capitol Nashville (2013)

I need to start with a confession: I’ve been skeptical of Darius Rucker since he ventured into country music. I was one of those people who just didn’t get Hootie & the Blowfish (and didn’t understand that band’s success), and Rucker’s first two country albums left me with that same sense of vague blandness.

But apparently, the third time’s a charm. True Believers, Rucker’s latest release, is a well-produced collection of hook-laden and radio-friendly country tunes that caught me with a smile on my face with the opening title track, and kept it on my face throughout the track list. By the second song, my skepticism was eradicated, and I knew that this guy definitely belongs in country music.

That’s not to say there isn’t a little bit of genre bending here; after all, you can’t ask a guy to completely forsake his roots for the sake of the purists—and in this day and age, when you’ve got guys like Kenny Chesney throwing island rhythms into the mix, and Zac Brown throwing in…well, almost everything else—the point is, there almost isn’t such a thing as “purism” in country. So when Darius Rucker throws in a bit of funk on “Radio”, or a taste of his native SC beach music vibe in “Shine”, it still comes across as forgivable, even a bit endearing. Especially when it’s offset with moving country ballads like “Love Like You” (a great duet with Sheryl Crow) and the brilliant blend of honky-tonk and gospel of “Take Me Home.”

And let’s talk for a minute about Rucker’s cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.” Look—you just don’t take on a classic like this (much less release it as your lead single) unless you can really offer something fresh; otherwise you just look silly. The thing is, Rucker totally does it justice—and the fact that the song is currently fighting Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” for the top of the country charts proves a lot of country fans are completely convinced by it.

At the end of the day, though, the thing that really makes a record stand out is not how faithful it is to a particular musical style; it’s the songs themselves. And that’s the real value of True Believers. Rucker has released a set of highly sing-able, highly memorable tunes, loaded with ear-worm hooks and virtually no mis-steps. I expect “Wagon Wheel” won’t be the only song that climbs the charts.

I was skeptical of Darius Rucker. I’m not anymore. Apparently, I am now one of the “true believers” his new record talks about.

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