Darius Rucker’s foray into country music has certainly been successful. The former Hootie & The Blowfish frontman has racked up six #1 hits since 2008. The biggest of course was his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” which was certified platinum three times and experiences massive crossover appeal. Even though I found his cover to be inferior to the original, this did expose many fans to Old Crow Medicine Show, including yours truly. Combine this with his inoffensive music and I’ve really had nothing against him. His most recent single however was by far his worse and made me pretty hesitant about the album. Along with some interesting song titles that concerned me, I didn’t have much hope for Rucker’s new album Southern Style. My expectations were quite low heading into this album.
It doesn’t help that the album leads off with the aforementioned single I disdain, “Homegrown Honey.” Derek covered this single pretty well back in October when it was released. From his review: “However, the main problem with “Homegrown Honey” …honey…honey… is the lyrics. Much like his buddy Blake, Darius also thinks it’s money…money…money to repeat words three times within the song. Outside of the repetitions, there is an essence of bro-like themes here, but really this song is about objectifying a woman, yet again. It’s a bar in New York City, but this Carolina girl standouts out from the “New York pretty” crowd with her “long stem legs in [her] cowboy boots” while she shoots straight whiskey.” I have nothing else to add other than this is by far the worst song on the album and if I ever hear it again it would be too soon.
The next song on the album, “Good For A Good Time” is an improvement. The instrumentation is pretty good and reminds me of 2000s country. The problem with this song though is the lyrics bore me. This is supposed to be a fun, party song and instead it’s just sort of there. Rucker is joined by Mallary Hope on “Baby I’m Right.” Their chemistry is pretty evident and they sound good together. The combination of the mandolin and the guitar make for great instrumentation. This is one of the better songs I’ve ever heard from Rucker and having a talented vocalist like Hope makes the song even better. I wouldn’t mind this being on the radio.
The album’s title track gets some things right and other things wrong. The biggest problem with “Southern Style” is the lyrics. They’re just a bunch of clichés about southern girls and life. The lyrics are completely unimaginative. But once again I think the instrumentation sounds good, as well as Rucker’s vocals. The formulaic lyrics of the next song “High On Life” prevent me from liking it. From the first twenty seconds of the song I can figure out exactly how it plays out and sure enough it does. While the message is good, the way it’s conveyed leaves little for the imagination.
One of the best songs on the entire album is “Perfect.” What I like the most about this song is it’s a song about a woman who doesn’t rely on derogatory terms or sexist remarks. Rucker compliments his woman’s beauty without sounding like a frat boy douche (like in “Homegrown Honey”). The lyrics are kept simple and straightforward, which works with this song. The instrumentation fits the song well. The upbeat “You, Me And My Guitar” is a simple romantic song about a guy, his woman and his guitar spending time together alone in the woods together. I enjoy the production of this song as well as Rucker’s voice, but once again the songwriting is just too cliché for me. There’s moments where I’m getting a “Homegrown” vibe from it, but then I’ll hear lyrics I feel like I’ve heard hundreds of times before and it throws me out of the song.
We’re at the point of the album where I’m starting to sense a pattern. Can you guess what it is? “Low Country” has great instrumentation and sub par, corny lyrics. This is the story of this entire album. I’m getting tired of repeating myself and waiting for some truly great songwriting because I have no issues with the sound of this album. “Need You More” continues this narrative (Insert everything I’ve said about the majority of each song on this album here). “Half Full Dixie Cup” was a song I was terrified to listen to based on the history of the term “Dixie cup” in country music the last few years. I was fully prepared for a bro country song. Instead this is just another song on Southern Style where I enjoy the production and yawn at the bland lyrics. I will give this song a little extra credit for the fiddles. Based on the title of “Lighter Up,” I was expecting a song about the people who puts lighters up at concerts when it gets dark and swing together. And I’m right. See I can guess a song correctly based on the title sometimes. This song leans more towards rock than country, which is different from the rest of the album. I find the lyrics predictable and uncreative. Shocker, huh?
Good songwriting finally reveals itself on this album though in “You Can Have Charleston.” Finally! These lyrics are good because they actually tell a story. This song is about how a man just broke up with a woman and tells her that she can have their town, Charleston, as there are too many old memories that surround it. Even though it’s where he grew up and it’s his home, he realize the pain won’t go away unless he leaves. This song is the perfect example of when Rucker can put it all together. The album concludes with “So I Sang,” a song where Rucker seems to reflect on his own life and career. The stripped back instrumentation with the heartfelt lyrics combine to produce a surprisingly good song. Despite having two co-writers (Tim James and Rivers Rutherford) on this song along with him, I feel like this song for the most part was written by Rucker. This is the kind of music Rucker needs to make all the time.
I’ll admit I was off base with my assumptions of Southern Style before hearing the album. It definitely surpassed my expectations and did more things right than I thought it would. Rucker wasn’t lying when he implied this would be his most country album yet, as every song actually sounds like a country song instrumentation-wise. The problem that plagued this album and ultimately held it back though was the songwriting. It was mostly bland, boring, clichéd and not really connecting with the listener. The few songs where this isn’t the case proved to be good music. So despite having low expectations coming in, after hearing this album I actually expected more. This album had the potential to be good, but it just comes up way too short in the songwriting department. If you’re a Rucker fan, you’ll like this album. For everyone else, I wouldn’t recommend the entire album. Just check out the few good songs. Southern Style has the right sound and approach, but the lyrics just don’t measure up.