Is Darius Rucker's country music career a serious thing or is he mocking his fans?

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comJune 26, 2013 

Third annual Darius Rucker Intercollegiate Golf Tournament: March 7-9, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island. www.longcoveclub.org/dariusrucker

Flipping through the channels on a recent night, awaiting the impending destruction Tropical Storm Andrea promised to inflict (but never did), I stopped on a live broadcast of former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman and newly minted country music superstar Darius Rucker's concert at Red Rocks Ampitheatre near Denver.

Once I got over how cool it was that a concert was being televised live, I noticed indignation growing within me as I watched Rucker strut across the stage in a faded pair of blue jeans, singing into a garnet-colored microphone with a University of South Carolina trucker cap atop his head. The American flag and photos of the cast of "Duck Dynasty" flashed on large LED screens behind him to roars of applause.

I was indignant because, unlike myself, the thousands in attendance didn't seem to care or notice that they were being pandered to, didn't seem to notice that the person now singing about sweet tea and pickup trucks and cold beer was once the lead singer of the most popular rock band in America.

Not only didn't they mind, they loved it. Meanwhile, I stewed and lost my mind temporarily when Rucker tried to rewrite history by claiming the platinum-selling hit "Let Her Cry" was, as he put it, "one of the first country songs I've ever written."

Really? Do you think the other members of Hootie and the Blowfish, some of whom have writing credits on that particular song, realized they were in a country music band all those years?

Not likely.

But it's hard to blame Rucker for trying his hand at writing country songs given that the bar for great lyricism in the genre is considerably lower than, say, rock music.

Take, for example, his song, "Southern State of Mind," which features the lyrics "I was up in New York City just the other week/You should've seen the waitress' face when I ordered sweet tea/She said we don't have that here and I apologized/I said please forgive me I'm in a Southern state of mind."

Contrast that with "Everlasting Arms," a song off Vampire Weekend's most recent record, which features lyrics about "Dies Irae," a 13th century hymn about Judgment Day, the song itself is a reference to "Leaning into Everlasting Arms," a hymn written in the late 19th century.

You're unlikely to find a song like that on the next Eric Church record.

But what of these fans? Didn't these people have any self-respect or care that Rucker's Texas-two step into country music had less to do with his love for the genre and its history and more to do with selling records, selling out shows and reinventing himself long after the sun had set on his career as a relevant pop artist?

Evidently not.

As I watched the show, which concluded with a flat, lifeless rendition of Prince's "Purple Rain," I tried to imagine this entire scenario playing out in rock music and racked my brain for a single case in which a popular country artist successfully transitioned to rock music.

It's never happened. Just ask Garth Brooks, or should I say Chris Gaines.

And my only explanation for why it's never happened rests in the ability of rock music fans to sniff out anything that is phony, inauthentic or, in this case, pandering.

They want the real deal and are actively offended by anything less. They killed disco. They killed hair metal.

By comparison, country music fans seem far more willing to embrace artists who speak to their experience and are, if record and concert ticket sales are any indication, not looking for songs referencing 13th century hymns.

They are instead seeking validation of their lifestyle and attitudes in song and will go crazy for any artist who steps to the microphone and does just that.

Apparently, even Hootie.

This week, a playlist featuring songs by eight artists I'm convinced could make excellent country records, should they ever choose to do so.

The only thing less believable than the idea that "Let Her Cry" is a country song is if Joe Elliot tried to convince us all that "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was originally a bluegrass tune.

  • Coldplay, "Till Kingdom Come" -- Given the strength of this song, originally written for Johnny Cash before his death in 2003, I think it's safe to say Chris Martin and Co. could put out a more than respectable country album.

  • Eddie Vedder, "More Than You Know" -- The Pearl Jam frontman's gorgeous "Ukelele Songs" could portend great things for a country-inspired solo record.

  • Kings of Leon, "Red Morning Light" -- One of the few rock bands with the gravitas to pull of a legitimate, and likely well-received, country album.

  • Florence + The Machine, "Seven Devils" -- Call me crazy but I think Florence Welch's soaring, yet vulnerable vocals lend themselves well to another genre.

  • Adele, "Make You Feel My Love" -- She can sing anything. Really.

  • Dr. Dog, "How Long Must I Wait" -- A band with just enough grit, heart and stomp to pull off something really special.

  • The Black Keys, "Give Your Heart Away" -- Ditto for this Akron, Ohio duo.

  • Jack White, "Love is Blindness" -- If I've learned nothing in the last decade, it's that one should never question the talent of Jack White.

  • Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

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