Darius Rucker: Charleston, SC 1966

RIYL: Radney Foster, Brad Paisley, Hootie & The Blowfish

Hootie & The Blowfish might have sold millions of copies of 1994’s Cracked Rear View album, but by the early part of the ’00s, they could barely pull a top-50 placing with the albums. Possibly not coincidentally, that’s when the band’s frontman, Darius Rucker, decided to step out of the band long enough to release his 2002 solo debut, Back to Then. That record found Rucker exploring his R&B side. It didn’t sell very well. Six years later, he tried again with a second solo album, Learn to Live, this time deciding to go country. The result: three number one singles on the Billboard country music chart. Bet you can’t guess which of these albums he used as the template for his latest release…

The title of Charleston, SC 1966 was inspired by Radney Foster’s breakthrough record, Del Rio, TX 1959, and if it isn’t necessarily as groundbreaking as Foster’s classic work (it isn’t), there are still moments where it can match it jangle for jangle. (Indeed, some of the jangling on Charleston actually comes from Foster.) There’s plenty of radio-friendly country pop out there, but precious little of it has the kind of crossover appeal that Rucker’s familiar voice can offer, and when it’s singing songs as catchy as “This” and “Come Back Song,” airplay is all but guaranteed.

Sonically speaking, a Rucker newbie listening to the songs from Charleston and Learn to Live on “shuffle” would probably be hard pressed to tell which songs came from which albums, so closely do they follow the same template. Still, you’ve got Bela Fleck on banjo adding a coolness factor, Brad Paisley (who duets with Rucker on “I Don’t Care”) helping to up his country cred, and a Kara DioGuardi co-write (“This”) to guarantee a hit single on both the country and the pop charts. On top of everything else, it really doesn’t sound that different from Hootie. That might not impress you, but once upon a time, 16 million people dug their sound, and based on the success of Learn to Live, it’s clear that a couple of million of them are happy to hear Rucker’s voice again. Can you really blame him for sticking to the same formula for Charleston? (Concord 2010)

Darius Rucker official website


George Benson: Songs and Stories

RIYL: Anything that’s smooth jazz

When you have ten Grammys, it can’t be easy to keep making award-winning music, but George Benson may do just that with his latest, Songs and Stories. Admitting that he keeps things fresh by focusing on the basics, a.k.a., songs and the stories that make up those songs, Benson dug into the material of some of his favorite songwriters, including James Taylor, Smokey Robinson, Bill Withers and Donnie Hathaway – and even had some other tracks specifically written for this project. Then what Benson brings to the table is what he does best: play the guitar like a tasty madman and deliver soulful and pitch-perfect vocals. Some of the highlights are the Al Jarreau-ish “Show Me the Love” which was written by project producer Marcus Miller as well as Toto’s David Lukather and David Paich; the bluesy “Come In from the Cold,” written by Marc Broussard, Radney Foster and Justin Tocket; and a take on Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” that will remind you of Benson’s “Breezin’” days. And of course Benson does a terrific job on the opening track, James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” which sounds like it could and should be a ubiquitous smooth jazz staple. George doesn’t ever disappoint, and he surely doesn’t here. (Concord 2009)

George Benson website


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