By Annie Reuter

Darius Rucker returns with his fifth country album, When Was the Last Time, and he switched gears this time around. Working with producer Ross Copperman (Dierks Bentley, Brett Eldredge, Keith Urban) for the first time, the country crooner says the laid-back producer helped to craft his latest album into his ideal vision.

Related: 5 Best Songs on Darius Rucker’s ‘When Was the Last Time’

“I think having a new producer doing things a little differently is really the story of this album,” Rucker says. “Even with the Hootie and the Blowfish records, we worked with Don Gehman on almost every record, so I’m used to having that comfort of working with the same producer. And I loved working with Frank Rogers on my previous (solo) records; he’s my brother, and I’m sure we’ll work together again. But we did such a change-up with this. I knew I liked Ross’s sound from the records he’d done with Dierks and some other people and when I met him, I instantly took to him and thought, ‘I want some of this kid’s energy.’ That kid is never not laughing. He’s also a friggin’ genius with the equipment and coming up with things that really make the record.”

Rucker says this time around the album’s vocals were done in a new way thanks to Copperman, who suggested he sing each song a couple times and if it felt good the track was done.

“This was as far as you could get from any kind of tedious thing,” Rucker confesses. “It was really three days, altogether, of recording music. One time, Ross came into Charleston to work, and we had planned five days to do six songs… and we did all six in one day. I was like, ‘Wow, okay!'”

The singer describes the album as being more upbeat and current radio single “For the First Time” is just one example. The song asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time? Let yourself go, baby, follow that feeling — maybe something new is what you’re needing.”

“You say you never danced to a dashboard singing R.E.M. under summer stars / Never leaned back on a jet black Chevy blowing smoke rings in the dark,” Rucker sings.

“Derrick George brought me part of a chorus that already had that line about R.E.M. We played so much R.E.M. in the day, so when I heard that, I said, ‘Dude, I love it — let’s write this,’” he recalls.

Rucker already has seen success with the album’s first single, “If I Told You,” which took nearly a year to make it to the top of the country charts. A career song, the ballad showcases his familiar vocals and Rucker admits he can’t believe he didn’t write it himself as the lyrics are so close to his own life.

“The first time I heard it, I thought, how could I have not been in this session?” he says. “Shane McAnally, Jon Nite, and Ross sat down and said, ‘Let’s write a song for Darius,’ and every time I sing it now, to be honest with you, it feels like I wrote it, because it’s so real . . . That was me growing up. And I went 15 years without seeing Dad. Then there’s the whole chorus: ‘If I told you all the bad things, could you stay?’ We all want to think that we could say that, but nobody does, because when you start a relationship, or you’re just trying to stay in a relationship, you want everybody to feel the good stuff.”

While Rucker is well known for his heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking ballads, he also infuses plenty of fun on When Was the Last Time. He enlisted friends Luke Bryan, Charles Kelley and Jason Aldean for a rollicking cover of Drivin N Cryin’s “Straight to Hell.” Meanwhile, upbeat album closer “Story to Tell” paints the singer’s life story in song form. All in all, it’s an album that continues to prove Rucker’s staying power in the country genre.

“I’m still trying to make an album, every time,” says Rucker.”Even in this day and age of singles dominating and nobody really knowing the sequence of a record like we did back in the day, I still want to make records that people can listen to all the way through.”

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