Single Review: Darius Rucker, "Wagon Wheel"

darius wagon wheelNo matter that Old Crow Medicine Show’s original track isn’t even ten years old yet. Thanks to the proliferating powers of the modern age, “Wagon Wheel” has already become a chestnut – so much so that any new recording of it is bound to feel a little stale, even a long-overdue FM bid like this one.

It doesn’t help that the talented Rucker turns in an unusually bloodless vocal. And it almost kills it that labelmates Lady Antebellum join in on the chorus. For all their skill with pop harmony, the trio sounds lost trying to navigate this rootsier ‘grass-folk territory, with poor Hillary Scott winding up particularly sour in the final mix.

But Frank Rogers’ production retains many of the original’s simple charms, and ultimately the song itself still shines through. And it’s a classic song: simple, vivid, instantly singable, lovingly stitched together from a Bob Dylan bootleg ditty. If nothing else, it sets a good example for country music in 2013, and

its surefire success at retail may inspire a few imitators – which, as Ketch Secor showed us when he first mined that bootleg, is not always such a bad thing.

Written by Ketch Secor and Bob Dylan

Grade: B-



  1. Very balanced review. It’s not as good as the Old Crow Medicine Show version, but the song’s charms still shine through on Rucker’s version. Rucker’s vocal doesn’t strike me as bloodless, but I do agree that the single would be better without Lady Antebellum. Regardless, I imagine this will still score an inevitable CMA nomination for Vocal Event of the Year.

  2. Since I’ve not been a fan of Rucker’s vocals on his country songs, this is the most engaged that he’s sounded to me so far. True that it doesn’t touch OCMS’s version though. I do enjoy Frank Rogers’ production.

  3. My problem with this? Darius Rucker. His gruff voice just plain doesn’t work.

    I love the arraignment. This would’ve worked had Phillip Sweet been the vocalist. LBT would’ve turned this into a career record. The perfect song for them.

  4. I imagine this would sound better if one was not comparing it to the original.

    Lady Antebellums appearance doesn’t really affect my judgement as they aren’t very prominent.

    Still, I really enjoy this, and would put around B+/A-

  5. Agreed, pretty well across the board. What works about it is that the song is sturdy enough and the production is sufficiently workmanlike to overcome Rucker’s mealy-mouthed delivery (consonants, who needs ’em?) and the god-awful, shrill backing vocals by Lady Antebellum.

    To that end:

    For all their skill with pop harmony

    That strikes me as generous to anything they’ve done since their first album, but here’s hoping they eventually rediscover that innate skill. And their new single drops tomorrow, so the sooner the better.

    (And there are very few songs at this point that I wouldn’t be at least a little bit curious to hear LBT take a crack at.)

  6. “I imagine this would sound better if one was not comparing it to the original.”

    Tried my best. And sure, if Rucker had just fished this song out of obscurity and was the first person to cover it, even this recording would be quite the revelation. But I think it’s such a country/folk standard now that the bar is just too high for a decent-enough recording to cut it.

    “That strikes me as generous to anything they’ve done since their first album”

    I think they sound nice enough together on, say, “We Owned the Night.” I just haven’t found their voices and material at all distinctive. (Except in the very beginning, with “Love Don’t Live Here.” Is that the last time anyone let Charles rip?)

  7. Personally I think Darius Rucker does a fantastic job with the song. I love the gruff quality of his voice. I think the Lady A background vocals didn’t mix too well with it, but I don’t think they sound bad.

    An LBT version could be good, as would one from the ZBB. In any case, this has to be the catchiest, most sing-along song on country radio right now. I’m a fan.

  8. I think you’ll find that Clay Underwood has the best cover of this song, his wonderful voice has just the right amount of twang to pull it off.

  9. …no way that this ain’t ending up as big hit – it is just too catchy and darius rucker does a good job with it.

    interestingly, the banjo seems to be back with a vengeance in “today’s country”. gone seem the days that this instrument, which i’m not particularly keen of – it’s the coriander of musical instruments and requires subtle application in order not to overpower everything else – served mostly as a fig leaf for keith urban to connect his sound a little stronger to country music. probably more awareness of the old sound than urban created the band perry in recent years, for whom banjo and mandoline ladden tunes were their key to earn nashville stardom.

    why not? just bear the coriander-thing in mind nashville, will you, please.

  10. This is a brilliant song. D Ruck sounds fantastic. He brings a swing a different element to the song. His chorus is passionate and true. Darius Rucker has a thunder bolt for a voice and this diddy with his groove is a Hit. Hillary Sounds great. She is subtle yet soulful and present.

    Catchy and soulfully sung. I sing along every time.
    As “Hesch” said in The Sopranos, … “A hit is a hit”. This song is a hit. And with all due respect to Ketch for writing great lyrics to a catchy, unshakeable, Bob Dylan chorus, Darius and Lady A put out one Hit of a song that is better than the original.

  11. A great song made better! Dan, you missed it. What an outstanding job DR and LA did with the Wagon Wheel cover. I rank it up there with Don McLean’s “American Pie”.

  12. Funny….. Dont dislike it at all. Actually, i thought it was Jo Dee Messina backng him and i got xcite thinking she me be constructing a ressurection. That sure would be nice !

  13. This is a great song! It brings back that old bluegrass style harmony. Check out the Cumberland Highlanders show on RFD and you will hear how they utilize the backup vocals to bring depth to a song. Lady A and Rucker nailed it.

  14. Even though this song has been cut many times, I just have an issue with Darius’s timing of the release coming off Old Crow’s success with it. Rucker apparently didn’t even know the song until he heard it at his kids school talent show. With that said he does a great job with the song. To me it’s a bit of a rip off but like I said, I know it wasnt Old Crow’s song either.

  15. Despite the flaws with this record, I’m pleased that something so country has gone #1 on the charts. Hopefully, this will become a trend. Maybe it’ll even help to lessen Darius’ fear of being as country as he’s stated that he’d like to be.

  16. Same. Like I said in the review, this was destined to be a big hit at retail (fortunately it’s been one at radio, too), and I’m excited for the example it sets. Even though I don’t love the recording, you won’t hear me complain if it wins Single of the Year, and certainly not if it wins Song.

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