A stroll down country roads
Learn to Live (Capitol)
The guys in Hootie & the Blowfish always had a healthy sense of humor about the ribbing they took for their dogged, middle-of-the-road stylings. Lead singer Darius Rucker, however, is having the last laugh since he's realized that country is the new MOR.
"Learn to Live" has already spawned a top-five country hit in the reflective, road-not-taken ballad "Don't Think I Don't Think About It." Several more hits should follow as Rucker faithfully follows the contemporary country guidelines on his second solo album. (The first was a low-key and unsuccessful stab at neo-soul.)
While there a few classic country attempts - notably the corny, acoustic, heal-the-world weeper "If I Had Wings," featuring Alison Krauss and Vince Gill - the majority of the 12 tracks take the melodic, Southern-pop-soul Hootie template and simply add fiddle, steel guitar, and more story-oriented lyrical structures.
The title track, for example, is a tale about absorbing the wisdom of your elders. The song is essentially a string of hackneyed sayings - "you've got to live to learn so you can learn to live" - over a crunchy midtempo pop-rock groove. It's catchy, down home, edgeless, and totally irresistible. Which is how most of the record could be described as Rucker applies his slightly gritty vocal style to the Rascal Flatts-ian opener "Forever Road," the Brad Paisley-assisted "All I Want," and an ode to the simple life, "Alright." If you're going to be tooling down the middle of the road, "Learn to Love" is perfectly pleasant accompaniment. [Sarah Rodman]