Aside from being one of the 90s’ top artists, Hootie & The Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, who helped the band sell over 16 millions copies of Cracked Rear View (1994), is a South Carolina native who cites Buck Owens as one of his top musical influences, referenced Nanci Griffith in the song “Drowning,” and is a Mandolin/Banjo/Dobro playing freak who sounds, frankly, more genuinely country than much of the current batch of “soul” influenced male vocalists hitting the scene in recent months.
So clear you mind, if you can, of any memory of Rucker’s performance as a “Big Rock Candy Mountain” parody-singing cowboy in the infamous 2005 Burger King AD where we all learned that “French fires grow like weeds,” and try to give the guy a fair shake.
He deserves it.
In fact, it’s almost frightening to hear how well he executes the hallmarks of contemporary country on this first single for Capitol Nashville, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” a track which finds Rucker unexpectedly comfortable in what can be described as, in many ways, a prototypical Top 40 Country single.
Rucker’s delivery seems more at ease on this country record than on much of his previous work–he has here abandoned his penchant for over-singing certain phrases and runs, instead finding a voice that is commanding and fluid while not unnecessarily overpowering.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this track, however, is the fact that unlike so many artists in Nashville these days, Rucker shows incredible poise from a production standpoint, avoiding the ultra-compressed and pointlessly thick-layered production schemes that abound on country radio. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” is smartly spaced and sufficiently sparce, with well-timed fiddles and steel guitars that neither undermine their own importance within the mix nor overstate the idea that this is a country song.
Rucker also demonstrates here his mastery of songwriting craft–he and Mills do everything right in constructing a tune that is hooky as hell while, still attempting to tap into the true emotion that is wondering “what if.”
Unfortunately, that attempt fails resoundingly, and Rucker’s and Mills’ masterful craftsmanship is the song’s greatest weakness.
“Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” is one of those songs that’s too good for it’s own good. It’s like going to a country craft show in search of something unique, something with character, something (perhaps) technically imperfect but constructed with love by human hands (rather than by a machine), only to find that all of the vendors are selling items nearly identical to those available at Wal-Mart.
This song feels machine-made, and so, even though Rucker’s vocals are dripping with emotion, the final product lands somewhere between sufficient and unsatisfying, unable to effectively call upon the guttural sense of pain that often rises concurrently with regret.
There are many reasons to love this record, and there are many reasons to be excited about Darius Rucker’s music in the future. So I award this single a thumbs-up–but with reservations. I have no doubt that Rucker is committed to success in country music, but let’s hope that he fights the urge to pander to a format that could use a good dose of the emotional resonance of a song like Hootie’s “Let Her Cry.”
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