Darius Rucker, "Charleston, SC 1966" (Capitol Nashville)
Darius Rucker's second country music album ditches the traditional songs included on his previous album, "Learn to Live." Instead, on his new "Charleston, SC 1966," he focuses solely on contemporary, radio-directed songs -- a clear sign that he knows the country audience, and country radio, has embraced him.
The shift is understandable, since the former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman won the 2009 CMA New Artist of the Year award thanks to three No. 1 radio hits. But his new focus loses the creative sweep and emotional force that made his first country album so compelling.
Rucker's voice remains a stout, immediately identifiable instrument. When he applies that voice to a compelling story line ("Whiskey and You") or an inventive arrangement ("Love Will Do That" and "I Don't Care," the latter co-written with Brad Paisley), he shows how effective of a pop-country artist he can be.
But too often his new songs, all 13 of which he co-wrote, are constructed around a clever catchphrase rather than a convincing emotion. Songs like "Things I'd Never Do," "I Got Nothin'" and the album's first hit, "Come Back Song," feature powerful performances that hardly vary in delivery and reveal little depth of feeling, despite dealing with serious topics.
"Charleston, SC 1966" likely will maintain Rucker's high profile on country radio. But it lacks the personal revelations promised in a title that recalls his birthplace and date.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: On "Southern State of Mind," one of the album's breeziest cuts, the South Carolina native observes how his regional customs sometime don't align with life in New York or California. Fortunately, the details and his delivery avoid the confrontational tone too often found in country songs that draw lines between rural and urban lifestyles.