When Was the Last Time, Darius Rucker

By Christian Zimonick, Staff Writer

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SCORE: 2.9

What happens when one takes an entire musical tradition, full of history and stories and little idiosyncrasies? They take that tradition and, seeking broad popular appeal, they snip off anything that makes it unique or special; they sand down a huge and ornately textured body of sounds and themes until it’s perfectly smooth, perfectly palatable to as many people as possible. Imagine taking a tradition which stretches back at least 100 years, call it “American Folk Music,” call it “Americana,” call it “Country.” Imagine taking this tradition, so unbelievably full of variation and history and innovation–wrought by the likes of Woody Guthrie and Earl Scruggs and Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt, and you take it and cut off all of the things that make it unique. What are you left with? Darius Rucker.

Actually, Darius Rucker is far from the worst thing to emerge from the cesspit of popular music which Nashville has become. That honor probably belongs to Florida-Georgia Line or one of the 15,000 other “bro country” acts. I won’t go into exactly what “bro country” entails, but rather leave it to the late, great Merle Haggard, who said that “they’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature.”

No, Darius Rucker does not stoop nearly this low. The nature of his crime is more insidious than that. Rather than pandering directly to the most basic of Country music fans, Rucker goes a step beyond. He creates the illusion of the authentic country man. He’s wholesome. He writes his own songs. His music must be leagues ahead of the likes of most Pop-Country drivel, right?

Wrong. Rucker’s latest release just shows how much his music fits the awful model of THE contemporary country album. The great David Allen Coe laid out all the elements of the “perfect country and western song” way back in 1975; for the uninitiated, a perfect country and western song involves: “trains, trucks, and gettin’ drunk” (among other things). With that in mind, let’s examine just how thoroughly Rucker nails the common clichés. Does he talk about his truck? Yes. It only takes the first 20 words of the album, in fact. What about trains? Not trains, per se, but tracks are at least mentioned, so we’ll count that too. What about gettin’ drunk? Oh yeah, “Count the Beers” covers that one, too. What about the more modern (and bizarrely ubiquitous) country obsession with blue jeans? Well, Darius suggests you “slide your jeans off and put your hands on” him, so he hits that one on the head as well.

As far as instrumentation goes, everything is predictably and disgustingly overproduced. The chorus on “Bring it On” sounds like a Christian-rock song. “Count the Beers” actually starts out with a promising blues-guitar wail but quickly resolves, like the rest of the album, into a cookie cutter country jam. The album does have one positive: Rucker’s voice itself is a pristine baritone. The guy can really sing, so why doesn’t he sing something better than the same regurgitations about trucks and jeans and beers? If Sturgill Simpson can do it why can’t he?

Do yourself a favor; don’t bother with this or anything that sounds like it.

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