Although when he first announced his move into country music, Darius Rucker spoke enthusiastically about his love of tradition, his label persuaded him to play it safe and record a preponderance of happy domestic numbers with polished production. For a while that worked for the artist, who has become the first African American to achieve mainstream commercial success in country music in years. However in recent months the increasing saminess of his material seems to have come home to roost, with the title track to his upcoming third country album, True Believers not making it very far into the top 20 on the country radio chart, and the album’s release date deferred.
In what may be a make-or-break moment for his career, Darius’s newest single is a song which while not traditional country in it the purest sense, is a lot more rootsy and organic sounding – and much better – than anything he has sent to radio so far. It is a song which will be familiar to many country fans, although it has not previously been a chart hit on country radio
The song in its current form was expanded on a chorus and melody by folk legend Bob Dylan, with story verses added by Ketch Secor of the modern old-time string band Old Crow Medicine Show. Old Crow Medicine Show were the first to record the song in its current form, around a decade ago, and that version was recently certified gold, reflecting slow but steady sales. It was covered a few years later in a slightly more polished style by Jeremy McComb, a talented independent artist who has not quite managed to break through despite getting pretty close to the top 40 with his 2008 single ‘Cold’.
Darius Rucker’s version features Lady Antebellum, an unexpected choice as their own music is so often bland, but while their voices are not particularly identifiable here, they make decent background singers. The arrangement is broadly similar to both previous versions, if a little slicker and more radio friendly, with prominent fiddle, banjo and mandolin making this one of the most country sounding records on today’s country radio. The singalong melody is a natural crowd pleaser, and the breezy feel is very attractive and should appeal to radio programmers who like the Zac Brown Band’s music. Fans of the original may feel, justifiably, that Darius brings little new to the song, but on its own merits, this is an enjoyable recording.
The world weary story of a man travelling south through the US to get to his sweetheart suit Rucker’s gravelly voice very well, and he tackles it with commitment and credibility, with his dreams of seeing his beloved giving it a sunny, optimistic feel. I feel I’ve always wanted to like Darius Rucker’s records more than I actually have, but this track has a lot more life than any of Rucker’s previous singles. I really like this single, and hope it does well for him.
But after his last two singles faltered on the charts, this could be a crucial point in his career.