Rucker’s latest album is named after his late mother, who was a nurse at MUSC
In the six years since Darius Rucker released an album, he’s toured with Hootie & the Blowfish, weathered the pandemic, and put out hit singles like “Beer & Sunshine” and “Same Beer Different Problem” that reappear on his new 14-track collection, Carolyn’s Boy.
Rucker’s post-Hootie country career began in 2008, peaking with his cover of “Wagon Wheel,” which won a Grammy and has sold more than 11 million copies. Although he splits time between here and Nashville, he’s still rooted in Charleston. His sister lives in the childhood home that the six siblings shared with their mother. Carolyn Rucker, a single mom and a nurse at MUSC, passed away in 1992, 18 months before Hootie’s Cracked Rear View started its climb to the top of the charts. Her smiling sepia-toned image graces the cover of Carolyn’s Boy, released in October.
The album’s delicate, acoustic third track, “Never Been Over,” is the first song Rucker says he’d have wanted her to hear. “We’ve been good and bad, hot and cold/And fightin’ mad, solid gold,” he sings, backed by a rolling mandolin, before, “We’ve been a lot of things, but we’ve never been over.” “‘Never Been Over’ makes me think of my mom every time I sing it,” he shares with Charleston magazine. “On the surface, it’s a love song about a romantic relationship, but it can apply to any loving relationship, and it really takes me back to the time we lost her. I still miss her every day.”
Rucker’s life may appear charmed, but he grew up poor without a father and lost his mother in his mid-20s. Even after finding stardom with Hootie, he initially struggled to find industry support for his solo country career. “I’ve experienced racism my whole life in different ways, and it definitely was something that came up when I was starting out in country music—having radio programmers tell me they weren’t sure their audience would welcome a Black country singer,” Rucker recalls. “There are always people who aren’t going to be accepting, but I can’t worry about them.”
Darius Rucker released Carolyn’s Boy in October, naming his first album in six years after his mother, an MUSC nurse who passed away in 1992.
Rucker proved doubters wrong. The song “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” from his first country album, Learn to Live, hit number one on country charts, making him the first Black singer since Charley Pride (in 1983) to achieve that feat. He’s used his fame to support other up-and-coming Black country artists like Chapel Hart, the all-female Mississippi trio that backs him on Carolyn’s Boy’s fifth track “Old Church Hymn,” an uplifting sing-along earworm.
Rucker cowrote 11 of the album’s songs. From the clever counting chorus of “7 Days” to “Stargazing” (destined for first-dance appearances at weddings in 2024) to surefire hometown hit “3 am in Carolina,” Rucker’s knack for wordplay—and that of his A-list Nashville collaborators—shows off, line by line.
“Sara,” a cowrite with Ed Sheeran, emerged from an offhand question during a London songwriting session. “He asked me early in the process who my first love was, and I said it was my fifth-grade girlfriend, Sara,” Rucker recalls. “He kept asking me questions about her throughout the day, and by the end, we had four songs we felt good about, so it seemed like we were ready to call it a day. He said, ‘No, we have to write one more. We have to write ‘Sara.’ I’m so glad we did.”
Rucker recently headlined the second year of Riverfront Revival, a festival he curates at Riverfront Park, where he played in support of Carolyn’s Boy for the first time since the album was released. “With the extended period between solo projects, I had the chance to write a ton of music and find some really great outside songs,” says Rucker. “I’m proud of the way the record came together, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”