Darius Rucker's leap into country music is not a move without precedent for the Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer, as his band was loosely rooted in country-ish roots rock. Nevertheless, a more important antecedent for Learn to Live is a 2005 Burger King commercial where Rucker was decked out in a Nudie suit while singing a spin on "Big Rock Candy Mountain." It was the unveiling of Rucker the country singer, and caused enough of a sensation to make a country album seem like a feasible move. As slight as the commercial was, it provided a stronger musical foundation than the urban R&B behind his 2002 solo debut Back to Then did, as Rucker showed no inclination toward modern soul in Hootie, whereas Learn to Live appeals directly to the frat boys and sports fanatics that made Cracked Rear View perhaps the most inexplicable multi-platinum hit of the '90s. Like those songs, the tunes on Learn to Live are big and simple, powered by obvious hooks delivered plainly -- and truth be told, apart from the 2-step shuffle of "All I Want," the loping modern country of "Alright," and the slow pace of the clever barroom crawl "Drinkin' and Dialin'," they don't feel especially country, either. They may not be made for honky tonks, but they do feel rootsy, much like Cracked Rear View did, and as they're written with Rucker in mind, not a jam band, they're more pop in form and feel than anything he's done since. Which, of course, also makes them ingratiating: these songs aren't knockouts, but they're friendly and comfortable, the kind of sturdy roots-pop that seems like it'd be easy to pull off but must not be, as this delicate balance of conversational melody and guy-next-door appeal has proven elusive to Rucker for over a decade now.
Learn to Live Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine