In the 1990s, Darius Rucker was on top in the pop and rock worlds thanks to his tenure as lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish. As a country artist, however, the South Carolina native has found even greater (and more enduring) success.
The secret is that the straightforward, emotionally resonant songwriting that made Rucker's early music so welcoming translates perfectly to the country genre. The importance of family has been a common theme in Rucker's music since his 2008 debut LP, Learn to Live, and he's never shied away from acute snapshots of romantic regret or marital bliss. Besides that, Rucker is one of the most distinctive and strong vocalists in country music: He possesses a warm, velvet-like croon capable of conveying both deep anguish and unbridled joy.
Below, The Boot counts down Rucker's Top 10 country tunes.
"Forever Road"From: 2008's 'Learn to Live'
Rucker announced his country solo career with "Forever Road," the lead-off track from his debut album. The driving, uplifting song set a musical precedent he's followed in the years since, mixing a soaring chorus, old-school flourishes and relatable lyrics focused on trust and unconditional love.
"This"From: 2010's 'Charleston, SC 1966'
Rucker continued his tradition of dynamic opening tracks with the gratitude-filled "This," a coppery, uptempo song that draws on major life events — a sleeping daughter, a mother's death, a fateful college decision — for lyrical inspiration and rollicking electric guitar and mandolin for melodic color.
"Candy Cane Christmas"From: 2014's 'Home for the Holidays'
Sure, this holiday-themed song is probably only appropriate for a couple months of the year. But it's hard to resist the sugarplum-esque orchestra swirls and Rucker's smooth-as-eggnog croon, as he ticks off the tantalizing perks and highlights that make Christmas so anticipated.
"Homegrown Honey"From: 2015's 'Southern Style'
Co-written with Nathan Chapman and Charles Kelley, "Homegrown Honey" leans more toward country-pop than a lot of Rucker's previous work. That simply means that the lyrics are a bit cheekier (rhyming "homegrown honey" with "you're so money") and the production is a bit brighter; otherwise, the song is as amiable and upbeat as ever.
"It Won't Be Like This for Long"From: 2008's 'Learn to Live'
It's easy to see why "It Won't Be Like This for Long" landed at No. 1 on the country charts and crossed over to the Top 40: This tender song about fatherhood and all it entails — the sleepless nights, first days of school, how quickly kids grow — is moving and heartfelt.
"Lost in You"From: 2013's 'True Believers'
Rarely has a song about a too-brief spring break romance been so irresistible; however, Rucker perfectly captures the regrets of letting a potentially good thing slip away on this melancholic earworm. Between the easygoing tempo burnished with little details (e.g., keening pedal steel, a bluesy organ) and an airtight chorus, "Lost in You" is a shoulda-been hit single.
"Come Back Song"From: 2010's 'Charleston, SC 1966'
Rucker leans toward mid-tempo folk-twang on this No. 1 Country Airplay hit, which isn't too far removed from the acoustic-leaning corners of Hootie & the Blowfish's catalog. Perhaps because it's about pleading for a second chance from a woman, the tune is also home to some of his most vivid lyrical imagery: "You're on the feel good side of leaving / And I'm the backside of a mule."
"Alright" From: 2008's 'Learn to Live'
Being thankful for the simple things in life — and happy with what you already have — is the theme of "Alright," a No. 1 hit from 2009: "I don't need no concert in the city / I got a stereo and the best of Patsy Cline," Rucker sings. Appropriately, he pairs these vivid images with a laid-back tempo and shuffling guitars, which conjure a casual jam session among friends.
"Don't Think I Don't Think About It"From: 2008's 'Learn to Live'
Rucker's first big country radio hit — it hit No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in 2008 — ended up a showcase for his powerful, expressive voice. The musician sounds wise and conspiratorial as he portrays a man having fleeting thoughts about an ex and muses briefly about what could've been. "Don't think it don't get to me," he sings, the twinges of regret and anguish palpable.
"Wagon Wheel"From: 2013's 'True Believers'
What else can be said about Rucker's take on the Old Crow Medicine Show-popularized, Bob Dylan-originating staple "Wagon Wheel"? Perhaps that the single — which features blazing banjo and fiddle, and Lady Antebellum on interlocking backup harmonies — deserves all the kudos and attention it's received since hitting No. 1 on the charts in 2013 and winning the a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance.