South Carolina native Darius Rucker first rose to fame as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, racking up six studio albums before embarking on a solo country career with the release of his 2008 record ‘Learn To Live’, which topped the Billboard Country Albums chart. Since then he’s released a further five albums – three of which have hit number one – as well as scoring 11 top 10 singles and being a frequent visitor to the UK on tour, most recently for C2C in 2022. Now he’s back with his long-awaited seventh LP, ‘Carolyn’s Boy’ (named in tribute to his late mother), the follow-up to 2017’s ‘When Was The Last Time’.
The album opens with lead single ‘Beers And Sunshine’, which features a mellow, upbeat intro before Rucker’s distinctive rich vocals kick in on the laidback lyrics. The song features one of his trademark huge choruses (as well as a namecheck for his home state) and the catchy melody will definitely stick in your head and have you singing along. Rucker hits some big notes and shows off the slight gravel in his voice as well, and it’s a very strong way to kick off the record.
There’s plenty for existing fans to like across the 14 tracks on offer here. Songs like ‘In This Together’, with its big punchy drums, rollicking melody and vocal tricks from Rucker, the bouncy melody and rapid-fire delivery of ‘Same Beer Different Problem’ and the uplifting ‘Have A Good Time’ with its twangy guitar and lively fiddle – a motif that runs throughout the record – are all guaranteed to sound fantastic live and have the whole audience singing along. Elsewhere, there’s a barroom vibe on the likes of ‘7 Days’ with its guitar slide intro and bittersweet twist in the lyrics and the introspective, regret-tinged ‘Sure Would Have Loved Her’ that practically demands to be swayed along to, whilst ‘Southern Comfort’ teams a driving melody with Rucker rattling off a list of states and a ton of affection in his honeyed tones for the place where he grew up.
For me many of the best moments come on the slower songs. ‘Never Been Over’ features a delicate acoustic guitar melody and smooth violin alongside reflective lyrics as Rucker sings about staying steady in a long term relationship, whilst ‘3AM In Carolina’ has a lush quality that nicely balances its storyline of a late-night tipsy outpouring of feelings and is peppered with references to the likes of Amsterdam and LAX. I also really loved the soulful ‘Old Church Hymn’, which starts off with a stripped-back feel before building up to a huge melody and a wicked guitar riff alongside some beautiful harmonies and lush vocal runs from Chapel Hart.
However, the real highlights are where Rucker tries something different. The heavier ‘Fires Don’t Start Themselves’ with its bluesy guitar intro and rocky vibes sees him showing off his more sultry side, with its playful, cheeky feel, spoken word moment on the bridge and a great fiddle solo. Meanwhile, ‘Sara’ – a co-write with none other than Ed Sheeran – has a gentle vibe and wonderful storytelling as he looks back on a past friendship, and his version of ‘Lift Me Up’ (from the ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ soundtrack) delivers a moving moment with its simple but powerful arrangement of strings and piano alongside his emotional delivery of the lyrics. You really feel the rawness and connection in the song and it’s very much a standout moment.
The album closes with ‘Stargazing’, which ties much of the record together with its fiddle and acoustic guitar alongside a detailed picture of Rucker and a lover enjoying ‘red wine, a truck bed and a blanket’ before going into yet another huge chorus. It’s a sweet, romantic number and provides a soft conclusion to the album that definitely lingers after it’s over.
Overall ‘Carolyn’s Boy’ is another solid project from Darius Rucker that delivers his standout vocals, enormous choruses and hopeful, optimistic lyrics in spades. Whilst it may not be the most groundbreaking album of the year, there’s definitely a lot to like about it and the range of styles shows that he’s not afraid to continue to experiment and keep things fresh. He knows exactly what works for him and where his strengths lie, and this is a record that will slot seamlessly into his discography whilst also highlighting where he might go next. In the meantime, here’s hoping we’ll get to hear some of these tracks live when he makes his way back across the pond next year…
Track listing: 1. Beers And Sunshine 2. In This Together 3. Never Been Over 4. Fires Don’t Start Themselves 5. Ol’ Church Hymn (featuring Chapel Hart) 6. 7 Days 7. Same Beer Different Problem 8. Sara 9. Have A Good Time 10. Sure Would Have Loved Her 11. Southern Comfort 12. 3am In Carolina 13. Lift Me Up 14. Stargazing Record label: Capitol Records Nashville/UMG Recordings Release date: 6th October 2023
See Darius Rucker live in the UK and Ireland in spring 2024 on the Starting Fires Tour – tickets available now at https://www.dariusrucker.com/tour:
27 April 2024 – O2 Apollo, Manchester
28 April 2024 – City Hall, Newcastle
30 April 2024 – O2 Academy, Birmingham
1 May 2024 – Beacon, Bristol
3 May 2024 – Eventim Hammersmith Apollo, London
5 May 2024 – O2 Academy, Leeds
6 May 2024 – O2 Academy, Glasgow
9 May 2024 – Olympia Theatre, Dublin
11 May 2024 – Waterfront Hall, Belfast