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True Believers ()

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By this point in the Darius Rucker discography, it's no longer a talking point that the former Hootie & the Blowfish singer is attempting a country career. True Believers is the singer's third album exploring contemporary country styles, following a strong showing with both 2008's Learn to Live and its 2010 follow-up, Charleston, SC 1966. The thing is, with a few songs you have to be listening pretty closely to differentiate the country affectations from the pop songwriting Rucker's been doing all along. There are flourishes of pedal steel here and there, and his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show's bluegrass stomper "Wagon Wheel" and the gospel-country rumination on missing South Carolina "Take Me Home" can't really be argued with in terms of down-home traditions, but a fair amount of the tracks rock as much as they drawl, with distorted guitars coming through as often as banjo. What really pushes the album into country territory more than the instrumentation is Rucker's sometimes naked storytelling. Songs take on the form of stories about the difficulties of marriage and middle age, the importance of family, or memories of happy times growing up. "Radio" grooves somewhere between alt-pop and '80s Top 40 fare as Rucker reminisces about simpler times, and the slow-burning title track tells the devotional tale of a couple meeting, falling in love, and striving for better things through challenges together. "Miss You" captures the frustration of a passionless marriage in subtle lines like "Had a bottle of wine and a perfectly fine dinner" before getting personal with lyrics like "How can we say we're still in love and not be lovers?" Cameos by Sheryl Crow and Mallary Hope add to the album that volleys between feel-good rockers and bittersweet ballads, relying as much on modern country stylings as Rucker's gifts for catchy pop melodies that first appeared in a slightly more alternative guise back in the '90s. ~ Fred Thomas, Rovi Hide synopsis

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