Darius Rucker, Learn to Live

Darius Rucker
Learn to Live

On his first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” Darius Rucker delivers an honest, heartfelt performance of a pensive ballad about love lost and the mark that it usually leaves. Rucker has attracted the attention of the country radio audience with that single, and it’s helped boost the profile of his first full country album, Learn to Live, a release that owns a variety of country music’s common topics and musical techniques. It’s that first single, though, where he sounds most natural and comfortable. The overall impression of the rest of the album; however, is how jolting it sounds for Rucker to reach into these twelve country songs and not stamp them with his own identity.

After an extended run as the lead singer of ‘90s pop-rock band Hootie & the Blowfish, Rucker has followed his muse, as influenced by his South Carolina upbringing and its strong helping of country radio. His connections within the industry have led to an all-star cast of talent on Learn to Live that lends a certain amount of creativity (and country credibility to boot). For example, on “All I Want,” a co-write with producer Frank Rogers, Rucker gives us one of the truly memorable hooks in recent memory, telling a soon-to-be-ex, “All I want you to leave me is alone.” It sounds like a song right out of the Brad Paisley catalog, no doubt a tribute to Paisley’s guitar playing on the track. But it highlights the one true problem with the album. Rucker appears to be trying a number of different styles, but never settles on one that is distinguishing. For such a tremendously arresting voice, he never establishes the sense of self that marks truly great country albums.

The other dilemma is that the songs never meet the standard of the rest of the album’s ingredients. Rogers does well to stay out of the way of Rucker’s performance, and Rucker in turn delivers with his coarse vocals. But he’s too reliant on radio-friendly, sentimental songs that never dig very deep at all. He manages to add a touch of poignancy to “It Won’t Be Like This for Long,” a ballad inspired by his two daughters, but the song never quite matches up with his skill set. The title track is similar in tone, and preaches the value in a life fully lived that eventually brings the narrator to a moment of clarity. And on “If I Had Wings,” Rucker is joined by the heart-rending harmonies of Alison Krauss and Vince Gill. These songs aren’t inherently bad (although they do toe the line of sentimentality), but they seem to provide the listener some dissonance when approaching Rucker as an artist. His ringing baritone deserves better (and less conventional) country songs. Songs brimming with heartache and loss are lacking, and at times the songs of love and devotion here fall flat. Instead he plays it safe with paint-by-number, maudlin ballads that never really tap into his talent.

Two songs about the concept of time miss for different reasons. “I Hope They Get To Me In Time” is distinctive in its storytelling, it’s just that the story is overly sentimental and just a little odd, as it tells of man’s life flashing before his eyes in the immediate aftermath of a car accident. And “While I Still Got the Time” (with a chorus almost completely lifted from the Kathy Mattea hit “Come from the Heart”) is ultimately cliché-ridden. Rucker’s reckless-weather voice is much better used on stronger material such as “Drinkin’ And Dialin”, a humorous ode to the late-night habit, or “Be Wary of a Woman,” a nod to the needs of freedom that are so quickly swept away in the face of life-changing love.

It’s that notable singing ability that was always going to carry this set above the mediocre, but Rucker’s earnest slant on this set of tunes is disconcerting when compared with his rich, resonant vocals. Learn to Live is well-produced and well-sung, but too many of the songs fail to fit the artist behind them.

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14 Comments

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14 Responses to Darius Rucker, Learn to Live

  1. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar

    Hmm…I was thinking of checking this album out. I don’t know if I will anymore. Initially, his first single was jarring (he has such a distinctive voice and he’s Hootie!), but it grew on me.

    Recommend any singles instead?

  2. ElevenNo Gravatar

    Sorry but Rucker’s voice wears even faster than Gary LeVox …. I know, that’s really saying something.

    Maybe I’ll make a country album…. everyone else is.

  3. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I actually thought his voice felt pretty comfortable with country songs. I was underwhelmed, however, by the songs and many of the arrangements. In an interview with The9513, Rucker talked about how traditional this album would be and that he told the musicians the more twang the better. Apparently, the musicians said “no”?

  4. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    Besides the first single, “Drinkin’ and Dialin'”, “Be Wary of a Woman” and “Forever Road” were my favorites. Paisley’s fingerprints are over “All I Want”, and I enjoyed the song, so I would suspect that as a single.

  5. I’m still going to check this out, but I’m looking forward to it a little less. It sounds like the vultures of Nashville got to Hootie.

  6. Nick MarcheseNo Gravatar

    I think to rate this album any less than 5 stars is a travesty. This album has at least 4-5 songs that will easily see the top 10 and it is one of the best albums of the year by far!
    If you’re a Hootie and the Blowfish fan, you are gonna love this album.
    If you’re looking for a new flavor, unlike the cookie cutting Nashville machine, you will appreciate this album for its uniqueness.

    Don’t go by the opinions on here, go check it out for yourself!

    Darius, job well done my man!

  7. Blake,

    Nice review here and I generally agree with your assessment of it. I just reviewed it (hence why I didn’t comment on it before now) and would probably give this record a 3.5-4 star rating. I see it as a gigantic, radio-hit packed album. I think “I Hope They Get To Me In Time” has a lyric that hasn’t been done all too often and for that it should be a smash hit.

  8. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    I got a copy of this album today from the station I work for. While I can’t say that I love all the tracks yet, the couple of stand-outs are already in heavy rotation for me. ‘Drinkin and Dialin’ and ‘All I Want’ are first-class. I need to listen to it again before I pick any other favorites – those are the two that jumped off the page …

  9. J.D. PynnNo Gravatar

    This is an extremely catchy, memorable record. I found it yesterday, and I haven’t been able to put it down since. This review tries to be fair, but it’s a pessimist’s take. I find many, many more redeeming qualities in this album than the reviewer. Strong lyrics, great vocals, good sound. There are several (yes, at least 6 or 7 tracks) that should prove to be radio hits, and the album is a perfect package.

  10. I also love this album. I have never heard darius; voice sound better. i feel he has found his true fit. i can listen to it from front to back and love every song. i also love the bonus song on itunes. “thank you” way to go darius!! i also just read in another article that darius wanted to make it more traditional country but his label held him back and that was a quote from the president of the label. anyway great job!

  11. TexratNo Gravatar

    Don’t believe the negativity of this review or the comments, folks. The album is worth listening to. You can actually hear the whole thing free at CMT’s site. Try it. You’ll like it.

    4-1/2 stars, not 3.

  12. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    I thought people might be interested in these interview clips from Darius Rucker. I especially enjoyed the story about when he went to see a Foster & Lloyd show, but he also talks about Jamey Johnson and Carrie Underwood.

  13. Brandon Haney

    I must be missing something. I rarely get chills when listening to music, but the song referred to in this review, “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”, literally gave me chills…and I don’t even have children. I have been listening to country music my entire life. I am 27 and love George Strait, Sugarland, Jake Owen, Gary Allan, Garth Brooks, etc…this is probably one of the best albums I have ever listened to. I was once a huge Hootie fan, but this is country music at its best. Darius Rucker is here to stay and we should all get out and support him. I advise to buy this album ASAP!!!

  14. Kevin WayneNo Gravatar

    I give this 5 out of 5 stars!!!
    I was a little hesitant at first when I heard he was putting out a country album but just like these pop stars crossing over (Michelle branch,Jessica Simpson) he delivers a righteous country sound with great vocals and lyrics. I love it.Just give it a try.