September 23, 2009
Learn To Live
(Capitol Records Nashville)
When Hootie and The Blowfish’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist Darius Rucker released his first solo effort in 2001 on a neo-soul imprint, the critical skepticism was palpable.
And rightly so.
Transparently attempting to position Rucker as a “real” Black artist, the texture of the album Back To Then suggested the Black musician somehow felt he needed to apologize for selling a kazillion records to white baby boomers during the late 1990s. And because the album was bought by the relatively new label Hidden Beach Recordings, Back To Then suffered from the new label’s marketing imperatives. It mattered not that the edges were burnished from Rucker’s raunchy, roadhouse baritone in the studio. The promotional scheme designed to neatly click the record into smooth jazz and R&B radio playlists failed miserably.
Alternatively, the unapologetically country album Learn To Live finds Rucker sounding stylistically at home and grounded in his subject.
It presents the musician’s reflections of a regular-ol’-feller-reaching-middle-age with a refreshingly raw and honest vulnerability. And it showcases a perfect mix of up-tempo numbers (the galloping opener “Forever Road”) and sparkling ballads (the hits “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and the heartwrenching “It Won’t Be Like This For Long”).
Primarily cowritten by Grammy Award nominee Clay Mills, Learn To Live also benefits heavily from the production aplomb of Nashville vet Frank Rogers.
The album leaves this listener looking forward to Rucker’s future projects, as it seems certain that his collaborators will be smart enough to be alright with him just doing his thing.