Album Review – Darius Rucker’s ‘Southern Style’

Darius Rucker Southern Style

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.

Grade: 5.5/10

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18 thoughts on “Album Review – Darius Rucker’s ‘Southern Style’

  1. So it looks like Darius will remain neutral. I really wanted to put him either in the bad or good category.I think we will be seeing a lot this year with albums being just there and I’m a little nervous about that at least. Basically if Darius gets better songwriting he could be considered one of the good guys. I have no real other news I saw in an interview on Billboard that Ashley Monroe song On To Something Good is apparently the only positive happy song based on what you’ve heard from her does Ashley Monroe do dark moody sad songs well. Albums I’m looking forward to Kristian Bush Will Hoge Reba A Thousand Horses Maddie & Tae Kelsea Ballerini there’s a lot of mainstream and I have a feeling some of this stuff is gonna turn out real well.

    Safe to say come ranking Mainstream Darius will also stay somewhere in the C-Tier.

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  2. Well on the plus side we didn’t get an abomanation of an album. Though I must admit I was hoping for a bashing 😉

    I’m not reviewing this one, only because I like the guy about as much as Josh likes Toby Keith.

    Albums I’m looking forward to: (in order or release date)

    Kristian Bush – “Southern Gravity” (one of the few albums in the mainstream I expect to be good)
    Will Hoge- “Small Town Dreams” (really wish I had found out about this guy sooner)
    Ray Wylie Hubbard- “The Ruffian’s Misfortune” (honestly don’t know a thing by him, but I figure this is probably a good start)
    Dwight Yoakam- “Second Hand Heart” (Of all of them, I’m most excited for this)
    Zac Brown Band- “Jekyll & Hyde” (no fricken clue how this will turn out, “Heavy Is The Head” is like REALLY far out for them..)

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  3. I’m willing to also admit this album wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.

    “Homegrown Honey” is clearly the outlier as far as outrageously awful is concerned. There are hardly any other -1 tracks intact on this set (“Lighter Up” probably is more of a -1 than a , but even that doesn’t bother me too much)……….but the problem is that there aren’t many +1 songs either.

    I’d agree the definite +1 tracks are “You Can Have Charleston” and “So I Sang”. I think “Perfect” and “Baby I’m Right” fall short and are high 0 songs to my ears that are on the cusp. And every other track is in a middling five-to-six grade range……………..for pretty much the exact reason you state.

    That’s the thing about Darius Rucker. In heart, I know he would like to produce genuinely country music, but he lied to us before upon releasing his debut album “Learn To Live” that he was going to produce a country album like country albums used to be made; that was influenced by part Texas two-step stompers and part Vern Goslin tear-in-your-beer ballads. Instead of just fessing up that his label, Capitol Nashville, obstructed his hopes and forced him to cut a commercially accessible contemporary country album with pop sensibilities, he just released the album as though he foolishly hoped no one would find out.

    And while, in heart, I know he wants to push closer and closer to his original goal………….I can’t help but get the impression he remains in a half-assed mindset about doing so. He may have the stylistic and vocal aspects down, but in terms of songwriting, what he has trotted out falls WELL short of the country music he idolizes. And it has ALWAYS been a problem with his solo country career catalog. His songwriting is highly influenced by the Nashville songwriting machine and smacks as highly ad-libbed: where 1) he chooses a first, second or third-person narration, 2) combs through a list of “I like ______” or “She likes ________” runsheets, or
    I’m a __________ and “She’s a ______________” proclamations, 3) pastes them together in a way that doesn’t really tell a story but at least has relative cohesion and 4) it’s good to go. The current crop of corporate country songwriting is built on non-sequiturs, as opposed to balladeering and stories, and Darius Rucker is no exception to the victimization.

    Still, he DOES show he is capable of occasionally eschewing the Nashville songwriting machine on sincere songs like the final two tracks, and is capable of delivering a stronger album if he wasn’t so complacent in the songwriting department and put as much passion into his pen than in his production choices and vocals where he clearly excels.

    *

    So, yeah, I’m going to give this a 5.5/10 too because that is the score that reflects most cuts on this album.

    Still, it was better than I expected it to be. The only sad part is this album also exposes how much more capable Darius Rucker is, if not overall greatness, flashes of great.

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  4. I liked the album, I been missing those sounds in country music and I’m glad he brought them back. yeah most of the times the lyrics don’t offer anything new but there are well written songs and what really makes me like the album is the music. I’d give it 7/10

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