On 'Carolyn’s Boy,' Darius Rucker pays loving tribute to his greatest inspiration: his late mother

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Singer/songwriter Darius Rucker poses for a portrait in Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 2023, to promote his new album "Carolyn's Boy." (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

LOS ANGELES – In 1992, country star Darius Rucker ’s mom died of a heart attack. That was two years before his band, Hootie and the Blowfish, would release their debut record “Cracked Rear View." It went No. 1 and eventually become diamond certified, twice.

Carolyn Rucker didn’t get to experience her son's incredible success — either in the rock band, or in the 2000s, as a Grammy award winning country music superstar. It's been 10 years since he released his cover of “Wagon Wheel,” one of the most popular country songs of all time.

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But Darius Rucker never stopped thinking about her. On Friday, he released “Carolyn’s Boy,” his eighth solo full-length album in tribute to his mom.

“I was writing the record, I was having a bad day, you know, bad mental day. And I just remember I sat there, and I said to myself, ‘At the end of the day, I’m just still my mama’s boy.’ And that was really the moment for me, you know, that’s what the record is,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s me just being who she raised me to be.”

And though it has been over three decades since her death, Rucker says he finally got to a point where he knew it was time to thank her in this way — through a collection of 14 cheery country music tracks. “Now that I'm a dad, three times over with grown kids, I just wanted to pay tribute to my mom who never got to see any of this stuff, any of this success.”

Songs that might sound like they’re about a romantic relationship or a carefree afternoon — such as “Never Been Over,” with its folky acoustic riff, or the laidback radio hit “Beers and Sunshine” — recall Carolyn. Especially the latter. "She worked hard. She was a nurse,” he says. “When she came home, she wanted a Budweiser and to sit on the back porch.”

But, he adds, the listener could find resonance in these songs with any kind of relationship. “Love is love, even though there’s different kinds of love,” he adds, so to others, these songs could be about “your cousin or your uncle or your brother or your mom or your dad.”

Still, “You never stop missing your mom,” he says. She was his first fan — and as he describes her, a “much better singer." Rucker's mom inspired him to become a performer, because she was his first audience, watching a young Darius sing Al Green songs into the salt and pepper shaker.

There’s nothing somber about this tribute album — “Carolyn's Boy” is about the good times. “Joyful is the word,” Rucker says. “She was a happy person.”

Optimism is found all over “Carolyn’s Boy." Like in the only collaboration on the album, “Ol’ Church Hymn,” featuring the trio Chapel Hart, made up of sisters Danica Hart and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle. Rucker saw a video of the group covering Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on Twitter, fell in love with their choir-like voices, and slid into their DMs to ask if they’d want to cut a record. “Those family harmonies, you can’t match that,” he says.

Then there’s the nostalgic, romantic ballad “Sara,” a song Rucker went to London to write with Ed Sheeran. He’s known Sheeran since the English singer opened for Taylor Swift in the U.S. early on, and they became friends.

“We just kept talking about writing together some day. And so, I said, ‘All right.’ And I actually go on a plane; I was there less than 24 hours," he says. "We sat around and wrote all day and then we got really drunk and I came home," he laughs.

If anything, that is the spirit Rucker carries hopes throughout “Carolyn’s Boy": it should sound like a celebration.

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