Darius Rucker returns with another chart-topper

Darius Rucker
Darius Rucker

CHARLESTON, SC 1966 Darius Rucker (Capitol Records Nashville)

As founding member and frontman for Hootie & The Blowfish, the immensely popular pop/rock band, Rucker met with considerable success through five studio albums with him as a lead singer and rhythm guitarist.

In 2002, Rucker moved in a new direction with the release of his first solo album, “Back To Then,” a modern take on R&B. An earlier solo album with Atlantic Records never was released due to contractual problems.

Two years ago, Rucker struck out in yet another direction, this time country music, with a solo album, “Learn To Live,” on the Capitol label. Rucker became the first country singer to have his first three singles hit the top of the charts since Wynonna Judd did it in 1992. His album quickly reached platinum status, so this new country effort was expected.

And it certainly doesn't disappoint. The title, by the way, pays tribute to singer/songwriter and big influence Radney Foster, whose debut album was named “Del Rio, TX 1959.” Rucker was born and reared in Charleston.

Rucker co-wrote all 13 of the numbers here. They are solid, contemporary country throughout, heavy with Rucker's vocal strength and no-nonsense, uncomplicated lyrics. The topics are quintessential country, laced with stories about love, hopes, dreams and whiskey. You should expect several of these tracks to score big on the country charts as singles.


A YEAR WITHOUT RAIN Selena Gomez & The Scene (Hollywood)

These days it seems not to be enough for teen stars to be limited to one form of entertainment. Movies, television, music: They want it all. And Selena Gomez most definitely fits into that category.

She's the star of the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place; she was in this year's movie Ramona and Beezus, and has just released this, her second CD following “Kiss & Tell,” which went gold.

This is already a Top 10 hit, so success is a given. But what about the quality of the performance and product?

Give Gomez credit for embracing a more vibrant “techno/dance vibe” as she describes it. The CD is packed with somewhat lightweight dance songs like the opening “Round & Round” to the more subdued title track and the almost Euro-trance beats-per-minute of “Summer's Not Hot.” There's also a nod to Latin rhythms on “Spotlight.”

Her voice is up to the not-very challenging task of handling these songs, and she shows it off best on the slower material (“Ghost of You”).

The lyrics cover good times, falling for a “Rock God,” empowerment (“Live Like There's No Tomorrow”), and a snarky put-down (“Sick of You”).

So it's mostly bouncy and upbeat, good-time dance-lite. It's slick and well-produced and pretty much devoid of musical or lyrical depth.

Given its chart position, that pleasant superficiality obviously worked just fine for the target tweens and teens. As for the rest of us — with the disc coming in at less than 35 minutes, it isn't around long enough to cause any lasting discomfort.


The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (Chimera)

Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl have spent enough time in the spot light together to seem prett y well pegged: the diffident rock scion and the slyly ethereal fashion model, a downtown couple of eccentric chic. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is their musical guise, a partnership that extends to the songwriting, the singing and the playing of various drawing-room instruments. It's not awful. But while “Acoustic Sessions” carries the hush of a whispered secret, it divulges little beyond the fact of its stylish presence.

Not, perhaps, for lack of trying. Some of these songs, with their surrealist intimations and counterintuitive chord changes, reflect obvious care. “Jardin du Luxembourg,” originally released in a 1960s mod version produced by Mark Ronson, appears here as a lilting reverie, unnervingly sweet. The following track, “Candy Necklace,” f latters the vocal blend between Lennon (reedy whine) and Kemp Muhl (breathy coo), achieving a slow-drag bliss. And “The World Was Made for Men,” an apocalyptic love song, benefits from a haunting a cappella arrangement, multitracked and echo-caressed: part Brian Wilson, part Danny Elfman.

Elsewhere the psychedelic-folk jangle can become gratingly precious, like an overwrought spread in the Anthropologie catalog. And Lennon — whose most recent solo album, “Friendly Fire” from 2006, put a similar aesthetic to plusher, more confessional use — now seems all too willing to wallow in cockedeyebrow pretension. The problem reaches its apogee on “Shroedinger's Cat,” a riff on philosophical inquiry: “Like a tree that falls alone in the woods without a sound / I can't be sure that I exist when you are not around.”

At least that's a fathomable sentiment. “Robot Boy,” on the other hand, tells the saga of its namesake hero, seeking out his female equivalent. And the chorus of “Dark Matter, White Noise” begins with this plea: “Wake me in a thousand years / When computers can shed tears.” It would seem Lennon and Kemp Muhl are gearing up for their plugged-in next release, reportedly titled “Victorian Cyborg.” Here's hoping that album feels less cloistered than this one.