A number of pop artists have crossed over to country music in recent years, yet very few have made their transitions seem anything but a marketing contrivance to reach a wider, more lucrative fanbase. Darius Rucker (of Hootie and the Blowfish fame) is now among those trying to walk the line, but his new album, Learn To Live, only leaves discerning listeners with the honky tonk blues.

Simply put, Rucker comes across as just another purveyor of the made-to-order, lyrically trite, and musically stale fluff that passes for much of contemporary country music. Just about every stereotypical attribute of the form is present, including random banjos, an ever-present pedal steel, and hackneyed idioms palmed off as clever song titles and generically identifiable lyrics.

On the insufferable ditty, “Alright,” he sings, “Don’t need no five-star reservations/I got spaghetti and a cheap bottle of wine/Don’t need no concert in the city/I got a stereo and the best of Patsy Cline.”

Surely someone has put this sentiment to better use — in a better song. He tries in vain to pull a Travis Tritt imitation with “Drinkin’ and Dialin’” (it’s a pun on “Drinking and Driving;” witty, huh?). And on “Be Wary Of A Woman,” he cautions all susceptible prey, “She’ll make you laugh when you feel like crying/Make you want to live when you feel like dying,” which sounds less like earnest expression and more like a scholastic exercise in rhymes and opposites.

Rather than offering the fruits of a concerted effort to produce substantive (or at least satisfying) music, Rucker instead panders to the most homogeneous and least critical of tastes. He even affects a requisite twang, which curiously enough, has never surfaced on any Hootie and the Blowfish album or his one previous solo release. Perhaps if he had approached it in a different, more sincere manner – by applying his artistic sensibilities to the genuine spirit of country music rather than constraining them to a clichéd version of the genre – Learn To Live would have fared better than it does. Instead, Rucker has rendered a work that capitalizes more on a selective sales strategy than on craft and conviction.

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