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Darius Rucker is playing to the "True Believers"

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2013

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The third time has proven to be a charm for Darius Rucker.

Then again, the Hootie & the Blowfish frontman has been enjoying a charmed life as a country music solo artist all along.

Rucker’s “True Believers” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in May, following predecessors “Learn to Live” (2008) and “Charleston, SC 1966” (2010) to the top spot. All three also debuted in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200, and Rucker became the first black artist in 26 years — since Charley Pride’s “Night Games” in 1983 — to score a No. 1 country single with 2008’s “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”

But Rucker says the success of “True Believers” is particularly gratifying.

“I thought it was the most important one, more important than the second album,” explains Rucker, 47, who became a country music fan while growing up in Charleston, S.C., even though he initially gravitated toward making rock and, to a lesser extent, R&B.

“The second album, for me, was still trying to solidify my place in country music.

“With (‘True Believers’) I feel like part of the family, but I still feel like I have so much to prove. There’s still the naysayers and whatever out there, so I still feel like there’s pressure to keep making good records that people — people who took a chance on me and people who supported me — want to listen to.

“So it’s like once you’re in the family, you’ve got to keep impressing the family. You don’t want to disappoint them.”

Time was Rucker’s greatest ally in making his latest album. Though country isn’t a genre known for patience, Rucker and producer Frank Rogers determinedly “wanted to take our time” with “True Believers,” trolling through dozens of possibilities to make sure they had the right combination of songs and tweaking performances until the duo felt they were the best they could be.

“The first two (albums) sounded a lot alike,” maintains Rucker, 47, who co-wrote all but two of the album’s 12 tracks. “This time we just wanted to sound a little different. It’s always going to be my voice and all that, but we just wanted the songs to shine a little brighter, maybe do a couple things that were a little more country.”

The album’s title track got things off to a strong start, but it was one of the outside songs — “Wagon Wheel,” started by Bob Dylan and finished by Old Crow Medicine Show — that really gave the album wings, becoming Rucker’s sixth No. 1 Country hit and his second platinum single.

“I guess I was out of the loop; I didn’t know every college student of the last eight years knew that song,” Rucker — who recruited Lady Antebellum to guest on the track — says with a laugh.

“Then one day, at my daughter’s high school talent show, the faculty band gets up and starts to play ‘Wagon Wheel,’ and in that simple setting I really heard the greatness of that song and went, ‘Wow, what a great song ...’ and decided to cut it.

“I didn’t cut it thinking it was going to be big single for me, but when we got Lady A on it, I felt like, ‘Wow, that song could be a monster.’”

Rucker will be spending the rest of this year and into next on the road, most of the time with his first-ever solo headlining tour.

“It’s exciting,” he says. “It’s really cool to be that guy, y’know, to get to be the one taking out really good, younger acts like the people who took me on tour with them when I started this (country) thing.”

Rucker keeps his rock side semi-active, too. Hootie & the Blowfish still plays a few dates each year, though Rucker says some of the band members don’t like to be on the road as much as they used to. But with next year marking the 20th anniversary of the group’s 16-times platinum debut album “Cracked Rear View,” he expects some activity surrounding that.

“Yeah there’s talk about it,” Rucker acknowledges. “There’s a lot of ideas being thrown around by people — when I hear the one that I’m enamored about, I’m sure we’ll do it. Maybe it’ll be a quick run or something, just ’cause it’s 20 years, and maybe play the whole record front to back and some other songs after that.

“That may be the way to do it — not too much, but we won’t ignore it, either.”

Darius Rucker, Rodney Atkins and Jana Kramer perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $29.50-$75 pavilion, $15 lawn with a $44 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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