Darius Rucker has confidence that his third country CD will be his best yet. The velvet-voiced singer isn't knocking his multi-platinum country debut, 'Learn to Live,' which led him to win the coveted CMA Best New Artist trophy. Nor is he saying his chart-topping sophomore solo effort, 'Charleston, S.C. 1966,' is chopped liver. He's just hoping his third country effort will be the one that seals the country deal.

"I'm going to try to make the best record I've made yet ... With this record, I want country music to say, 'Hey, he can stay,'" Darius tells Taste of Country. "The first record was, 'Welcome!' The next record was' 'OK, that's great.' But I want them to now say, 'OK, he can stay.'"

Darius explains that he and producer Frank Rogers already have some great new songs they're planning to record soon. But while he thinks he'll follow his current single, 'I Got Nothin',' with a new radio release in February, he's not sure whether it will be another track from 'Charleston' or a brand-new song from the upcoming project.

One new song we will most definitely be hearing from Darius in 2012 is 'Stuck on You,' his collaboration with Lionel Richie on the pop icon's upcoming album of duets, 'Tuskegee.' The project pairs Lionel with an eclectic mix of country singers, from Darius and Blake Shelton to Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett. Darius was one of the lucky first who signed on to the project.

"I didn't choose the songs for them; they chose for themselves. I wanted them to own it," Lionel tells The Boot of his duet partners. "I said to Darius, 'Would you like to do a Lionel Richie song?' and he just said, [mimics Darius singing], 'Stuck on You!' ... One of the funniest parts of these sessions was that I would walk in with a lyrics sheet and they'd go, 'What's that for? [laughs] We know this song better than you do!' With Darius, I said, 'What part are you going to sing?' and he said, 'Your part. What else?'"

For Darius, recording with one of his musical heroes was a surreal experience. "The Lionel Richie project is one of the first times in my career that somebody of that caliber has called me and said, 'Hey man, will you come sing with me?' I was blown away by that," he recalls to Taste of Country. "Then to be told, 'We're calling you early, so you can choose any song you want to do ... what song would you like?' I mean ... really?! [laughs]

"[Lionel] is probably more of my DNA than an idol," Darius continues. "He's part of what I am. For him to be that cool ... I met some of my idols that were some of the most bitter people in the world ... Before I met them, I just wanted to hang out and have a beer. After I met them, I never wanted to be in their presence again. But with Lionel, I can't wait until I can see him again. I text him all the time! When I was at home and on my birthday, this package comes to my house from Lionel Richie! Are you serious? Lionel Richie sent me a birthday present? That was one of the three I got that day! [laughs]"

After wrapping up his own headlining tour last month, Darius is taking a little time off the road this holiday season to be with family. He'll join Lady Antebellum's Own the Night tour in January. Check out his concert schedule here.

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