Back To Then
Record label: Hidden Beach
Format: CD
Release date: 30 July 2002

So I’m checkin’ out this album sampler that came in. Darius Rucker - looks like it’s on the soul tip. Released on Hidden Beach, the same label that made Jill Scott a household name and blew up Jazzy Jeff’s A Touch of Jazz production crew. Should be decent. Then I’m lookin’ at the photo of this cat and I start to put two and two together…hold up, AIN’T THAT HOOTIE??!? Yes folks, the front man for Hootie & The Blowfish has released a soul album. And notice I said that the joint came out on Hidden Beach, which basically means whoever’s releasing Hootie was rather hesitant about this project. I can hear the panic in their voices now: “What will your fan base think?” (read: all those white folk who love you) Pretty shallow, in my opinion. First off, if the Average White Band (who weren’t average, by any means) taught us anything, they should’ve clued us in on the fact that some white folk ain’t scared of soul. And if a brother can be Hootie, then others like him will listen to Hootie. And after listening to this album, brothers and sisters will love Darius Rucker.

What immediately comes across listening to this record is that nothing sounds forced. The songs and Rucker’s vocals all stem from a deep-rooted love of the music. Andre Harris and Vidal Davis work their magic under the Touch of Jazz moniker, crafting together some beautiful and crisp production. The title track is a definite high point, with the backing vocals sealing the deal on the chorus: “there was a time / we were so in love / can we go back to then?” Darius surrounds himself with like-minded heads including Musiq and Jill Scott. On “Sometimes I Wonder,” Rucker and Scott trade vocals back and forth so naturally that they make the perfect match. Then there’s shoulder-hunching funk like “Sleeping In My Bed” - a surprise to some, a downright shocker to others. This track places Rucker alongside Snoop Dogg, chiming in a quick verse but mostly singing one-liners (which really makes you wonder if he’s gonna get all P-Funk: The Next Generation on us in the coming years). Darius also nods in the direction of one of his inspirations, covering Rev. Al Green’s “I’m Glad You’re Mine” to great effect, showing respect for the past while giving the song a contemporary flair. Hootie deserves mad props for taking a chance and doing something different. And much respect due to Hidden Beach for being so receptive to the project. If they play their cards right, this album could win a whole new fan base for the brother. Let’s hope that urban radio doesn’t pass this one by.

{vic feedle}

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