First and foremost Darius Rucker is a top notch front man and an entertainer of the highest degree. Regardless of the ethnic diversity, or lack of it to be more precise, within Nashville’s major country music labels, the executives were getting a sure fire winner when Darius headed to Music City to record the next phase of his music career back in 2008. Digging deep into his South Carolina roots and refreshing his natural charisma led to enormous success in sales of both records and concert tickets. Perhaps it was Darius’s eye for a challenge which sees him at the forefront of Nashville’s latest raid on the UK market. So eighteen months on from a successful slot at the inaugural Country 2 Country Festival, Darius Rucker has kept his promise to return to the UK with the added bonus of a provincial tour.
In the last half a dozen years, this prime venue in Wolverhampton has sporadically dallied with country music by hosting Hal Ketchum and Guy Clark but it was very much the changing of the guard audience-wise with this latest promotion. Darius admitted on more than one occasion that his heart will always be with Hootie and the Blowfish but fair play to the respect he pays to country music with his approach to the stage performance he puts on. Whether covering Hank Jr’s ‘Family Tradition’ or ensuring pedal steel, fiddle, banjo and mandolin play their part, any fears of a watered down version of this great genre were allayed. The Blowfish part circa 2008-2014 is in the format of the South Carolina Grey Boys, a fine bunch of pickers mixing some genuine roots music with soulful keys and refined guitar rock. Together they blistered their way through an hour and three quarter set led by the consummate aura of Darius Rucker, primarily on vocals with the odd acoustic guitar segment.
The breadth of Darius’s lengthy career in this show was celebrated, ranging from Hootie numbers such as ‘Time’ through to his latest single cut ‘Home Grown Honey’. It was no surprise that the popular songs like ‘Alright’ and ‘True Believers’ were greeted with exuberant audience enthusiasm which was only surpassed by the contrasting and curious encore pairing of ‘Wagon Wheel’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’. With a polite nod to the Old Crow Medicine Show and references to Tom Petty and Bob Dylan, there were moments of embracing ‘cool Americana’ alongside the trademark brashness and posturing. Amongst the usual suspects for that premium concert experience, including his country chart debuting no.1 single ‘Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It’, was the impressive track ‘Southern State of Mind’.
Joining Darius on stage for the Hank Jr cover was opening act Patrick Davis who had earlier done a sterling job warming up the crowd with vibrant rigour and plenty of well received rapport. With a friendship going back to their South Carolina upbringing, Patrick and Darius exuded a kindred spirit which has seen the former share many tunes in the guise of his Nashville song writing day job. In the obvious style of chasing that lucrative cut, there was a strong contemporary feel to Patrick’s songs which in my view peaked with the fabulous ‘Numbers’. A little humour surrounded his cover of ‘I’m on Fire’ but in the name of perfecting that warm up slot, Patrick scored favourably with many in a highly respectable West Midlands turnout.
This assembly of Midlands based music fans mixed hard core Darius Rucker‘ believers’ with others curious to see a rare regional visit of a major country music artist. His musical background and style will naturally court a divided opinion in country music circles but what was in evidence at Wolverhampton’s Wulfrun Hall was a respectful and major league performer at the top of his game.