Darius Rucker – “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”

Jim Malec | May 8th, 2008

Darius Rucker Songwriters: Darius Rucker and Clay Mills.

Aside from being one of the 90s’ top artists, Hootie & The Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, who helped the band sell over 16 millions copies of Cracked Rear View (1994), is a South Carolina native who cites Buck Owens as one of his top musical influences, referenced Nanci Griffith in the song “Drowning,” and is a Mandolin/Banjo/Dobro playing freak who sounds, frankly, more genuinely country than much of the current batch of “soul” influenced male vocalists hitting the scene in recent months.

So clear you mind, if you can, of any memory of Rucker’s performance as a “Big Rock Candy Mountain” parody-singing cowboy in the infamous 2005 Burger King AD where we all learned that “French fires grow like weeds,” and try to give the guy a fair shake.

He deserves it.

In fact, it’s almost frightening to hear how well he executes the hallmarks of contemporary country on this first single for Capitol Nashville, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” a track which finds Rucker unexpectedly comfortable in what can be described as, in many ways, a prototypical Top 40 Country single.

Rucker’s delivery seems more at ease on this country record than on much of his previous work–he has here abandoned his penchant for over-singing certain phrases and runs, instead finding a voice that is commanding and fluid while not unnecessarily overpowering.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this track, however, is the fact that unlike so many artists in Nashville these days, Rucker shows incredible poise from a production standpoint, avoiding the ultra-compressed and pointlessly thick-layered production schemes that abound on country radio. “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” is smartly spaced and sufficiently sparce, with well-timed fiddles and steel guitars that neither undermine their own importance within the mix nor overstate the idea that this is a country song.

Rucker also demonstrates here his mastery of songwriting craft–he and Mills do everything right in constructing a tune that is hooky as hell while, still attempting to tap into the true emotion that is wondering “what if.”

Unfortunately, that attempt fails resoundingly, and Rucker’s and Mills’ masterful craftsmanship is the song’s greatest weakness.

“Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” is one of those songs that’s too good for it’s own good. It’s like going to a country craft show in search of something unique, something with character, something (perhaps) technically imperfect but constructed with love by human hands (rather than by a machine), only to find that all of the vendors are selling items nearly identical to those available at Wal-Mart.

This song feels machine-made, and so, even though Rucker’s vocals are dripping with emotion, the final product lands somewhere between sufficient and unsatisfying, unable to effectively call upon the guttural sense of pain that often rises concurrently with regret.

There are many reasons to love this record, and there are many reasons to be excited about Darius Rucker’s music in the future. So I award this single a thumbs-up–but with reservations. I have no doubt that Rucker is committed to success in country music, but let’s hope that he fights the urge to pander to a format that could use a good dose of the emotional resonance of a song like Hootie’s “Let Her Cry.”

Thumbs Up

Listen: Darius Rucker – “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It”

  1. Matt
    May 8, 2008 at 10:20 am

    If Daruis Rucker didn’t record this song, Montgomery Gentry could have. This song sounds just like many of the duo’s songs.

  2. Mike Parker
    May 8, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Good review… the song left me excited about what a talent Rucker’s could do for country music. I think it’s a good, right down the middle single that will play to a wide audience (both adult contemporary and country). Still, I’m hoping his goal will be to put out a focused album and not a genre-neutral, middle-of-the road suckfest.

  3. Brady Vercher
    May 8, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I mentioned it before, but I was hoping this was the song of the same title that was written by Bobby Pinson and was disappointed when I heard it. Ultimately, if it’s the song in question that matters, and not hopes for future output, I think this one fails to deliver, although I think you’re right about the production and delivery.

  4. Hollerin' Ben
    May 8, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Damn my eyes I actually like this song.

    Despite liking this song, I’m deeply troubled by the fact that current mainstream nashville country music owes more to Bon Jovi, Hootie and the Blowfish, The Wallflowers, and Jewel, than to George Jones, Hank Williams, Cash, or Buck Owens.

  5. Heidi
    May 8, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Darius’ voice was a soundtrack to teenagers of the later 90′s. To hear him once again is not only exciting but stirs up so many memories. I enjoy this song and hope Darius sees some success as a crossover. Great review Jim!

  6. plain_jo
    May 8, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    I was also hoping for the Bobby Pinson song (which IMO is a lot better). I think the song lacks emotion, but I really like his voice.

  7. Lucas
    May 9, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Am I supposed to somehow be convinced that this sounds like a country song?

  8. Jim Malec
    May 9, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    The fact that a person has made rock records in the past is not a reason to assume that said person’s current music isn’t “country” or that they aren’t genuinely devoted to making country music.

    I am honestly so tired of the “is it country?” debate–give it a rest, for God’s sake.

    This very day we are heaping praise on a man, Eddy Arnold, whose greatest contribution may have been bringing together two different musical styles.

    And I promise you this–some of Eddy Arnold’s records were FAR less “country” (in context) than this single.

  9. CRAIG R.
    May 9, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Lucas I agree. Also what is with the twang? When he was Hootie there was no twang-now there is twang(maybe he picked up Faith Hill’s and Tim McGraw when they left them by the side of the road). As a black man I would love to see another black man sing great country music like Stoney Edwatds or Mr. Pride- but not this.

  10. Jim Malec
    May 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Yeah, because what Pop/Rock artist doesn’t want a singer who sings with lots of twang?

  11. Kelly
    May 9, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Jim, its odd to me that you are tired of the argument of what “is and isnt country”. I know that you have a great admiration for many of todays mainstream stars and have written favorable reviews on many recent mainstream releases (along with some unfavorable ones as well), so I guess thats why you arent fond of someone questioning whether a song that has more in common with adult contemporary than what many consider to be “real country” is in fact, “country or not”. However, the question of “what is country” is now, has been, and likely will be a valid question for a long time. This question was being asked when Willie left Nashville for Austin (and before). He didnt see the over-produced tracks with lush string arrangements that were coming out of nashville as his type of “country”. Should we not ask that question due to the fact that its a hard one to answer? I actually think this Darius Rucker single is more “country” than most of what is on the radio (the slide guitar is a nice touch), but of course, people will disagree and my opinion is based upon a gut feeling I had as I listened. Is the broad, subjective nature of the question that bothers you? Surely you dont feel that everything that is played on top 40 country radio is “country”?

  12. Lucas
    May 9, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Jim, I see in no way how your argument makes this song any more country. Actually, it has made it less country. How, I’m not sure, just thought that might act as a decent zinger. ;)

  13. Jim Malec
    May 10, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Kelly–I have no problem with the question when it approached from an objective standpoint.

  14. Leeann
    May 10, 2008 at 7:22 am

    While I thought Lucas didn’t substantiate his “not country” argument by his condescending question, I didn’t pick up, Jim, that you wouldn’t have had a problem with the question if it was made from an objective standpoint. Instead, your comment really made it seem that you were “…honestly so tired of the “is it country?” debate–give it a rest, for God’s sake.”

    As Kelly said, I think it’s a very viable and important debate. Of course, the debate can’t always be objective, since it’s all a matter of taste these days, not to mention what one person will allow versus another. I like today’s country music (what some would call pop music with nasal or an obligatory steel guitar), but I still get accused of being a traditionalist because I expect to be able to tell the difference between a pop song and a country song.

    By the way, I’m excited to hear this guy try his hand at country music…just as I’m excited to see Jewel do it. I’m glad Darius changed his voice to fit the format; it makes sense for him to do so. I like his voice better in this song than with the Blowfish. I, however, would argue that he had plenty of nasal, though perhaps not twang, with the Blowfish.

  15. Jim Malec
    May 10, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Sorry, LeeAnn–it’s not all a matter of taste. That just isn’t factual. That’s like saying that there’s no such thing as “good art” or “bad art” because all art is subjective and could be good or bad based on individual perception.

    I wish we could talk about the music of Rucker, Jewel, Bon Jovi, like it actually mattered, as opposed to simply dismissing it with a wave of the hand as “not country.” I wish we could examine these songs based on musical merit rather than on initial knee-jerk reaction.

    So you have to forgive me if I, for once, express my frustration at the country music community’s preoccupation with this particular debate, and the toll it takes on the response to criticism. Lately, it seems like every discussion revolves around not whether a song is good or bad, but whether we’re willing to call it country.

    What really irks me about the debate as it relates to this song is the fact that there’s little not country about it–unless you’re defining “country music” by one of those narrow frameworks we were recently discussing in another thread. This song is so centered in the modern country context that to dismiss it as not country is really to dismiss all modern country music.

    This isn’t a fringe song. This doesn’t sound anything like a pop record.

  16. Kelly
    May 10, 2008 at 9:42 am

    Jim, for the most part when people are saying it isn’t “country”, they are saying that it isn’t a good country song and not merely “just not country”. It’s one thing to be a contemporary country apologist, but to be so indignant towards people who are skeptical of acts that are crossing over as their pop career’s heyday is clearly in the past is more narrow-minded than the argument you are attempting to invalidate. As I said in my previous comment, I think this track is just fine within the realm of today’s contemporary country, but please let’s not suggest (as you did strongly) that it doesnt sound anything like a pop track. To not sound similar to “Holla Back Girl” doesnt imply that it doesnt sound anything like a pop record. This is where the term “objective” loses it validity as that is a subjective opinion on your part.

  17. Chris N.
    May 10, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I wonder if rap fans spend all their time arguing over whether particular songs and artists are “rap enough.”

  18. Jim Malec
    May 10, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Go listen to a pop station, Kelly. Then flip to an AC station. Then come back and tell me if this fits in that mix.

    This is where the subjectivity come in–the narrower your view of country music is, the broader your view of pop is bound to be.

  19. Kelly
    May 10, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Perhaps, Jim. Of course, by your argument, you are suggeting that simply because something is played on country radio it must be “country” due to the song being on that format’s playlist. As I asked in my first comment, you surely cant feel that everything played on current contemporary country radio is country, can you (Tim McGraw’s “suspicions” for example)? Most pop stations play a wide variety, from nickelback to timbaland, to madonna. I would say thats a pretty wide view of a genre but not based upon my definition, but by the station’s playlist (which is what you are suggesting I go by in your argument). I wouldnt suggest anyone determine what is pop or country by looking at a stations playlist, as you are getting advertisers opinions more than an actual example of what is and isnt a certain genre’s type of music. that isnt an “anti-establishment” sentiment but a realistic observation.

    I have a wide view of what is country (I love artists from Reckless Kelly, Ernest Tubb, Jimmie Rodgers, Oak Ridge Boys to Gary Allan and even Sarah Evans), and it’s funny you suggest otherwise, as I have no problems agreeing that the Rucker track is country. I just continue to be amazed at your unwillingness to accept that the argument in question is vital and has been for such a long time.

  20. Jim Malec
    May 10, 2008 at 11:48 am

    I have never suggested, in any article or comment, that just because a song is played on country radio it is necessarily a country song. In fact, in our review of Rascal Flatts’s “Take Me There,” I explicitly voiced the opinion that there was nothing even remotely country about that song.

    Also, I’m not sure why you think I am unwilling to accept that the question is relevant (although I wouldn’t go as far as calling it ‘vital’)–I realize that my first comment was, perhaps, not clear enough, but in my follow-up I absolutely stated that I have no problem with this discussion as long as it is based on musical principles.

    And I think we found some substance in that regard when we were discussing Lady A (again, in another thread–for those following along). What I do have a problem with is the constant “not country” chatter that I hear from a relentless minority of traditionalists and the like, most of whom would rather argue over genre rights than over the musical merit of a particular song or album.

    Take that for what you will.

  21. Kelly
    May 10, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    “Go listen to a pop station, Kelly. Then flip to an AC station. Then come back and tell me if this fits in that mix.”

    That is a clear suggestion on your part that a song does fit into whatever genre the station that is playing it is supposedly representing. Again, I think you miss the point of what these “traditionalists”( of which I am not by the way) are actually saying when they question if something is “country”. They arent arguing “genre rights”, in my opinion, they are stating that it isnt a good country song more than they are questioning if it is “country”.

    It’s always fun to throw ideas and philosophies back and forth (I have applauded many of your thoughts on the 9513, Jim), and like I have said before, God bless the 9513 for being a sounding board versus a cheesy fanboy message board.

  22. Jim Malec
    May 10, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    OK, sure, Kelly. Yep, I totally believe that radio format playlists are 100% representative of their associated genre. You caught me. What can I say? In fact, I think Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood, and Kellie Pickler as the epitome of country music. Merle who?

    /sarcasm

    You can nitpick my sentences all you want. I don’t mind. But I really wish you would stop implying things on my behalf. All I suggested was that you go listen to a pop station and tell me if this song fits in that playlist. Nothing less, nothing more. I do not appreciate you telling me what I really meant to say.

    I will tell you what I think. That’s why I get paid the big bucks, baby. ;-)

    Aside from all of that–no worries, friend. No cheesy fanboy writers will ever populate these pages.

  23. Kelly
    May 10, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Jim, my goal wasnt to “tell you” what you were trying to mean with your words. While your sarcasm is understood and funny, I was left to wonder what you truly meant by your “radio station remarks” from the earlier comment, as you werent answering the question I had asked on multiple occasions. I was forced to “nit pick” as your replies were simplistic, dismissive and vague (in my opinion).

    Ok, Ok, I am done, and I will stop on this topic. Feel free to unload (not that you need my permission) on this comment and have a good one ;)

  24. Leeann
    May 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Jim, you’re absolutely right. My comment wasn’t actually factual. I over generalized. Whether or not something is country is not based on taste and shouldn’t be. However, I do believe that people who debate the matter often make the judgment based on taste.

    For the unnecessary record, I think this song is, in fact, country. I don’t love it, but not because I don’t think it’s country. As I said above, I’m excited that Rucker is trying his hand at country music. Likewise, if you looked at my massive country music collection, you would discover that I’m no traditionalist. In fact, a traditionalist would be horrified by my “pop” country leaning. I, however, believe that the debate is both relevant and viable…even if I don’t always agree with the conclusions of the debate.

  25. Funk
    May 11, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Sorry, LeeAnn–it’s not all a matter of taste. That just isn’t factual. That’s like saying that there’s no such thing as “good art” or “bad art” because all art is subjective and could be good or bad based on individual perception.

    Jim, I agree with you that it isn’t that hard to define country music from say, rock. I don’t have a dog in that fight. But I am curious as to your opinion in the quote above. I am asking you because I am interested in your opinions and because, as you say, you get paid the big bucks.

    In the context of your quote, what is your opinion about say, folk art or punk rock? By folk art, which is pretty wide ranging, I’m thinking about the American Naive movement, where people living way rural lives used to paint their kids. It was simple and often factually incorrect because of technical errors, but it’s hard to argue the paintings lack for charm and a certain point of view. And as for punk rock, I didn’t like it because the performers were purposefully NOT learning how to play their intruments, which I always saw as motivated more by laziness than rebellion against the sad state of the art in those days.

    So, I know I can’t define good art vs bad art but I do believe it can be done. How do you do it?

  26. Jim Malec
    May 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    It’s an interesting question, and one that I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to answer based on the examples you’ve given here. I know little about visual art, and almost as little about punk rock, outside of its history and theory.

    And, of course, if I could say how to definitively differentiate between good art and bad art, I’d probably make BIGGER money ;-)

    I have a background in literature and literary criticism, and so if I could frame the question in that context, I’d say that there are certain things we look for as we attempt to make that distinction:

    First of all, is the work multi-dimensional? Does it speak to different people on different levels and for different reasons? In the case of the visual art you mentioned, I would suppose that the portraits in question would elicit considerably different reactions based upon the viewers background and perspective, and the messages about what those portraits communicate about the artist, subject, and setting will be read differently because of that.

    Secondly, and less technically, I would say that “good” art (in the general sense of the word ‘art’) is something that is not entirely consumable, whereas “bad” art, though potentially effective in conveying a specific idea or emotion, has little long-term sustainability.

    One of the interesting things about punk rock is that the movement has far surpassed the popularity or extent of the music itself. I think this speaks to the fact that the “genre” (if we can call it that) was, and remains, a rejection of certain societal norms and standards.

    So despite the fact that the music contains technical flaws, the fact that it still has the ability, years later, to inspire (or even only to act as a symbol) speaks to its overall importance.

    Of course, this has little to do with the thread, as I was merely using the example to illustrate the idea that genre labels are both concretely and socially defined, as opposed to arbitrarily and individually assigned…

    …but it is an interesting discussion nonetheless.

  27. Funk
    May 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I think it has a lot to do with the discussion.

    There seems to be some posters at the9513.com who don’t think music can be reviewed in any objective way. They may be right about that or they may be wrong.

    Or, they might be saying that certain people are not qualified to be valid critics and I think that is definitely true. I hope there is a difference between a good and valid critic and my neighbor Jethro Bodean. Jethro has some skills to be sure but critical thinking and an impressive knowledge of music and artistic expression are not among them.

    The good thing about the internet is that everyone is able to express his or her opinion. The bad thing about the internet is that everyone is able to express his or her opinion. I think online critics need to convince us every once in awhile why their opinion matters.

    You do that by discussing literary criticism. An education in that area allowed you to see that one of the requirements of criticism is knowledge. The more you know, the better you are able to put some context around a decision about quality. Beyond that, there are some general questions that are standard and a good critic will address those issues.

    It’s interesting to read opinion and that makes these blogs/bulletin boards great. Still some opinions tend to have more merit than others and time forces us to focus.

  28. Leeann
    May 11, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    For the record, again, I’m in no way implying that the reviewers on the9513 or various other blogs are being subjective in their reviews. As a reviewer myself, I try very hard to be objective, though I’m sure people will argue that I’m not. When I made the comment about “taste”, I was specifically referring to casual commenters. I still believe that the average commenter (which I am when I comment on this blog) who says that something is or is not country enough is basing their comment on taste.

  29. Jim Malec
    May 11, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    There’s a fine line between education and expierience, and the two don’t always run together. I brought up my education in literature in order to answer your question, but I wouldn’t say (nor do I think you meant to imply such), that my education in that field is what gives weight to the criticism in these pages.

    I do think the best critics are those who have lived “on the inside,” at least for some period of time–those who have walked, at least to some extent, in the shoes of those persons whom they are commenting on.

    An outsider may be able to effectively communicate the technical details of a musical work, but they will not necessarily be able to do so with due sensitivity and respect unless they understand the creative process from the ground up, and have, indeed, toiled at it themselves.

    And I think that it is a critic’s duty to approach every work with great sensitivity and great respect–because it is only when he or she is does this on a consistent basis that the negative criticism has any merit, and, likewise, it is only then that we are justified in the defense of the new.

    I would still be able to write about country music if I had never played a writer’s night, if I had never gone through the publishing process, if I had never produced a record. It is, however, because I have done all of those things that I am able to write about it with authority.

  30. Leeann
    May 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    My English Lit professor brother-in-law would be rather surprised to find literary theory being integrated into a country music blog thread. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay close enough attention, or rather retain, most of my lit theory training that I acquired in the one class that I took.

  31. Jim Malec
    May 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    I would probably agree with you on that, LeeAnn–and I actually think that your latest comment serves as a clarification.

    Also, my reviews are absolutely somewhat subjective. I would never imply otherwise. Hopefully I am able to keep that in check most of the time, but every journalist, reporter, and critic has his or her own spin and his or her own tastes. That’s just the way it is.

  32. Leeann
    May 11, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    My feelings exactly, Jim.

  33. Funk
    May 11, 2008 at 7:43 pm

    I think the best reviewers have formally thought about good vs bad. It doesn’t matter whether obtained in a traditional school or on the job.

    Education forces the process to occur but of course, it’s not limited to occuring only in a school of some kind. Public education forces us to think critically about the many things that makes us who we are; Americans, humans and inhabitants of earth. That is never bad.

  34. Chip Hanson
    May 14, 2008 at 11:39 am

    For those of you who think Darius is just a pop rocker adding twang to his voice to sell some country records…. Then you have only listened to the songs that were played on the radio in the 90′s. Check out their other albums for songs like… “Desert Mountain Showdown”, “Michelle Post”, “Fine Line” <– awesome cover of Radney Foster. Darius has sang duets with some of country’s true artists like Nanci Griffith, for example, “Love at the Five and Dime” and “Gulf Coast Highway” and Nancy has sang on some of their albums. One in particular “Gravity of the Situation”

    Check them out… give him a chance… open your mind… the man could sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and it would sound good. The bottom line is he wants to make country music and he should. He’s not just a singer that is buying songs written by someone else and recording them, he is writing and co-writing songs from his heart and putting them out there. If you don’t like the songs… don’t listen to them, but please don’t beat the man down for following his heart and his dreams.

  35. Dan
    May 25, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    I was a big fan of Hootie– still am… and I heard this song on Sirius yesterday.

    I really, really liked it! I’m rooting for Darius and I’d probably buy his CD. He’s not a novelty act. He’s a great musician.

  36. Dan M
    May 26, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Oh no, now there’s another Dan lurking around! I thought I might be able to avoid bringing the first initial of my last name into this, but I guess not.

    But anyway, I agree with the other Dan and several other commentators; I think Darius will make for a very exciting country act indeed.

  37. hali
    March 26, 2009 at 8:24 am

    omg i love darius rucker he is just like my dad yu no except hes a little differnt but he mostly is like him he looks just like one of my best friends if you [ut them side to side you would not no who was who its kind of like lettin ur cow out in a feild full of brown cows nothin else and ur cows brown which one is it

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