Before he became the first African American to top the US country charts since Charlie Pride in 1983, Darius Rucker was best known as the voice of Hootie & The Blowfish, the bizarrely-named rockers whose 1994 debut album sold a staggering 16 million copies. Rucker's decision to launch a full-time solo career in 2008 has meant a hiatus for them, but continued success for Rucker, who as a child of South Carolina, says he'd always felt frustrated with not being able to pursue a more country sound.
Charleston, SC 1966, a reference to his place and date of birth, is actually the third disc of his solo career, which commenced in 2002 with the R&B-tinged Back To Then, and turned towards country with 2008's Learn To Live. Every one of the 13 tracks on this album are co-writes that he's had a hand in, but all the same, a certain autobiographical tone predominates.
"Sometimes I wanna be George Jones/Sometimes Charlie Pride," he sings on In A Big Way, a memorable closing track that deals with his need to step out of the fast lane and touch base with domesticity. Actually, he sounds closer to George Strait, another of his idols, who also gets a namecheck on Might Get Lucky. This finds him listing the ways a married man might "get lucky" with his wife if he "treats her right". But this old-fashioned take on 'new man' values falls right off the porch during I Don't Care, a boozy duet with Brad Paisley. Meanwhile, Southern State Of Mind finds him musing on northerners' reactions to his southern manners and habits, but doesn't mention Jim Crow or the KKK.
Elsewhere, there are few surprises on offer; this is a thoroughly mainstream effort, which takes few risks and relies largely on well-worn country cliches. Rucker's rocker roots are evident right from the stomping opener This, and while Love Will Do That touches on bluegrass, with the help of some nifty banjo from Bela Fleck, Whiskey And You and Things I'd Never Do both find him straying into power ballad territory. One suspects that just like Hootie & The Blowfish, and numerous contemporary country outfits, that ole' Atlantic crossing is a bridge too far.