One of the best things about Darius Rucker’s music is that he seems to write from a very personal perspective, largely ignoring the trend of songs about partying and ‘getting your feel-good on’. Darius is at his best when writing more hard-hitting lyrical songs, such as ‘Miss You’ from his last album ‘True Believers’, which didn’t perform that well on radio, peaking at 48 on US Country Airplay charts, but was critically acclaimed. Given that his last single from ‘True Believers’ was in February last year, ‘Southern Style’ was long-awaited, although being in the UK, my wait was broken by his amazing UK tour, where he played the first single from the new record ‘Homegrown Honey’.
Having promised a more ‘fun’ album, which people can ‘party to’, I wasn’t sure what to expect from ‘Southern Style’ since I didn’t want to listen to one of the artists I respect most cheapen himself to the level of Luke Bryan. However, following ‘Southern Style’s’ first single ‘Homegrown Honey’, I let out a little home-groan, since with lyrics like ‘homegrown honey, honey, honey, you’re so money, money, money’, the song was definitely not up to Darius’ previous high standard (although it is very good live).
Fortunately, ‘Homegrown Honey’ was an aberration, and the rest of the album is very, very solid, providing a relaxed Summer-evening atmosphere whilst lyrically staying true to where I imagine Darius is in life (assuming he is not too different to most 48 year old men). Musically, there are not many surprises from Darius’ previous three country albums, with most songs including acoustic guitar, drum kit and some banjo, mandolin and fiddle to add texture to the songs, and having a steady, pedestrian rhythm with some hint of swing to match Rucker’s dulcet tones.
‘Good For A Good Time’, follows ‘Homegrown Honey’ with an almost cabaret-inspired musicality, which is really interesting. I love the way that it is very free-flowing and feels like a natural party song, with a lot of emphasis on ‘country’ stringed instruments like the fiddle. When a party song reflects a free-living style musically, that’s when it is done well, rather than keeping a strict rhythm but making it ‘fun’ by overdoing electric guitars, as a lot of acts seem to be doing at the expense of their musicality.
‘Baby I’m Right’ is a highlight of the album, with a really simple, yet beautifully chilled melody paired to gorgeous backing harmonies. This is more similar to Darius Rucker’s style from his previous albums, tinkered with enough to prevent it going stale. One of the best things with this song is its atmosphere, with the gentle mandolin mixed with Darius’ soft vocals creating a really nice relaxing feel, going with the Summery theme of the album.
Given the title track, ‘Southern Style’, you would be forgiven for thinking that it was going to be yet another song about ‘the south’, and ‘southern pride’, being careful to avoid stereotypes (but not really). However, I am pleased to say that this track wasn’t sponsored by Lonely Planet, and is actually a pretty heartfelt song based around a particular girl’s characteristics, and whilst there are the oft-used ‘Southern’ references, they aren’t the focus of the song. I really like this, again enjoying the simplicity of the music and the relaxing atmosphere it conjures (are you getting a theme of the album yet?).
‘Perfect’ is the first of the authentic love songs on the record, and whilst it doesn’t take any risks with style or lyrics, and actually sounds quite similar to songs that Darius has released before, it does demonstrate what we already knew he does well; realistic lyrics to match stories about realistic relationships. It is this kind of song that drew me to Darius Rucker in the first place, and I’m glad to see that he hasn’t changed his style to the extent that he stops making these songs. Likewise, ‘You, Me And My Guitar’ is written in a similar vein, with a more upbeat rhythm and more of a Summery feel, and it really works for me, both as a story and as a nice song to sing along to.
Toward the end of the album, Darius brings his more hard-hitting songs, with ‘Need You More’ and ‘You Can Have Charleston’ providing a richer melody and backing, matching the deep longing that the lyrics describe. ‘Need You More’ in particular captures a sense of desperation when Darius sings about the depth of the love between the couple in the song, and creates a stark, yet welcome, change from the light touches of the songs thus far on the album. ‘You Can Have Charleston’, likewise plunges into some powerful emotions when describing the aftermath of a break-up, with the lyrics revolving around Darius moving away after the end of a relationship and describing how much he loves the city, painting the picture of how much he’s hurting in a quite clever indirect manner.
The album ends on another deep note, with ‘So I Sang’, telling the story of how Darius got into music. With a predominantly rich acoustic guitar backing and understated vocals, this is a truly beautiful song. Whilst perhaps an unusual move to end the album on such a subdued note, I think that this is the best song on the record, with the lyrics particularly hitting home when he sings about his mother’s death and how music helped him through. This is Darius at his absolute best, and the crescendo towards the end is really magical.
If you like Darius Rucker, then you will definitely like ‘Southern Style’. It is interesting in the way that it is both similar in style to his discography, whilst at the same time changing his focus for more of a relaxed, care-free style of song, and I find this quite refreshing. I’m surprised, and impressed, by ‘Southern Style’, and judging by the amount of spins it’s already received, I can certainly recommend it!