by Brad Tucker
Hearing that Darius Rucker turned to country for his second solo full-length is probably not terribly shocking; his band, Hootie & the Blowfish, were rooted in sounds both rootsy and country. Rather, it is the headlong dive into contemporary pop-country that is a little unnerving. From the opening seconds of Live to Learn, Rucker’s voice, while certainly not unrecognizable, is distinctly more “country.” Track one, ” Forever Road” launches listeners into 12 mandolin backed, fiddle sprinkled, and mid-tempo Country Music Television-dripping songs about love-lost, life lessons, and raising children. All that aside, Learn to Live appears to be full of hits, demonstrated immediately by the success of the first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” which is already a Billboard Number One on the country charts. Rucker pulls out all the stops; Brad Paisley, Allison Kraus, and Vince Gill are among numerous guests, and aside from the standard country instrumentation, Rucker even name-drops Patsy Cline. Although Rucker seems to be obsessed with the imagery of mirrors (dating back to Hootie’s breakthrough album Cracked Rear-Window), his words are the backbone of the album. Rucker’s sense of humor drives the light-hearted break-up song “All I Want,” where the narrator instructs a former lover to take it all, “all I want you to leave me is alone.” Learn to Live probably won’t land Rucker in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it will slide nicely into country music radio, and will establish him as serious country star.