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Xavier Rudd - Topic

Spirit Bird Play

Xavier Rudd's seventh album Spirit Bird finds the Australian multi-instrumentalist expanding on the sonic and lyrical themes laid out in much of his previous work. There are propulsive, experimental pieces heavy with ethnic percussion and featuring his ever-present didgeridoo along with quieter, more song-based work which features Rudd's strong vocals and gentle acoustic guitar playing. Themes of environmentalism, social injustice, and the artist's own personal journey pervade many of the lyrics. As with his previous output, all instruments and vocals are performed by Rudd as he continues to expand and deepen his musical vision. ~ Timothy Monger, Rovi

Koonyum Sun Play

For those who thought the aggressive, squalling rock guitar freakout on Xavier Rudd's brilliant 2009 album, Dark Shades of Blue was too much, 2010's Koonyum Sun may feel more comforting -- even if it is a wholly different animal -- one that has much in common with his earlier, acoustically driven offerings. Recorded with his new band Izintaba featuring the South African rhythm section of bassist Tio Moloantoa and percussionist Andile Nqubezelo, Koonyum Sun is impressive and more organic. The direct role these two players assume in the proceedings here is massive: check the dubwise reggae on the opener “Sky to Ground,” and the driving syncopated world funk fusion in “Set Me Free.” These men can also really sing; their vocal harmonies reflect South African jive and Township music. Combined with Rudd's blue-eyed aboriginal melodies and punchy vocal phrasing, the combination is soul stirring. A stellar example is on the sparse, tribal, call-and-response chant on “Reasons We Were Blessed.” Elsewhere, “Love Comes and Goes” features Rudd playing his acoustic Weissenborn slide and singing solo. While the music in this track reflects his previous efforts, the lyrics are so nakedly confessional they hurt in uncharacteristic fashion. (It’s a brave move indeed that Rudd has chosen this track as its first single.) The skittering snare skeins of Nqubezelo’s double-timing drum work add a moody vibe to the tune; but it sounds like quiet thunder as Rudd moans and a downtuned bassline rumbles through bridging the dialogues. “Time to Smile” is gorgeous for its polyrhythms, with carefully chosen electric guitar fills located between Moloantoa’s bubbling bassline and Rudd's strummed Weissenborn. Again the syncopated double-time drums and Izintaba’s amazing backing vocals offer resurrection and rebirth in the midst of life-changing turmoil, and support Rudd’s vocal mightily. Ultimately, Koonyum Sun is the most personal record he has ever cut; its lyrics are vulnerable -- even as they reflect a sinewy spirit -- check “Woman Dreaming,” a paean to forgiveness and acceptance, even if it feels like its "whistling past the graveyard." “Badimo” closes the set with an intro that sounds like it comes from the aboriginal "dreamtime": didgeridoos, cymbals, and antiquated folk songs are woven into its modern fabric. It reflects a return to the foundation in order to heal so as to climb the mountain again. The album is solid; it feels more like a band recording than a solo offering; and though it's a step forward musically, it should resonate with new listeners while, at the same time, its tether to familiarity will encourage older fans. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

Dark Shades of Blue Play

By 2008, Australian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd established himself as a world-touring itinerant musician who broke most of the rules of the music biz and got away with it. Traveling the world with his multitude of instruments (including three different didgeridoos, bass, banjo, stompbox, percussion instruments, and an assortment of Weissenborn guitars), Rudd was a one-man band who happened to be a rather gifted surfer and a fine songwriter. He played a self-composed amalgam of Aussie folk, blues, and reggae, and, as on his last two recordings on Anti, his themes evolved from being introspective personal observations to decidedly non-pedantic reflections on the global environmental crisis, racism, personal responsibility, and the benefits of community. Dark Shades of Blue is special, and unique to Rudd's catalog. First off, it's an electric record, full of barely contained squalling guitars, percussion, and a more textural approach to recording. That said, it's hardly a sellout; in fact, given how comfortably he inhabits this terrain, this may be the record Rudd has desired to make for a long time. He still plays Weissenborn guitars, though they're amplified, as is a six-string resonator. His didgeridoos are still present (known here by their aboriginal term, yirdaki), as well as the drums of Dave Tolley, and sometimes a small chorus of backing vocalists. His songwriting is more expansive; he relies on the blues a bit more, though reggae and Aussie folk styles are everywhere. The Weissenborn lends itself to amplification beautifully, offering long distorted and sustained tones that transcend mere "rock."
The opening two cuts, the long droning "Black Water" and the title track it seamlessly morphs into, are marvelous examples of the new kind of restless expression Rudd employs here. The former, with its single opening note of controlled feedback, almost sounds like Jimi Hendrix's intro to "Foxey Lady," giving way to a swirling bluesy wail accompanied by droning didgeridoos and Tolley's monstrous tom-toms. Since it's an instrumental, it will make an unsuspecting fan do a double take and check the label. The title track, with its snarling slide, uses textured feedback and effects pedals to introduce Rudd's vocals, which offer an emotionally honest personal reflection. Reggae makes its entrance on "Secrets," but for all its space, the heavy guitar cuts in and out almost dubwise. "Guku," with its fingerpicked electric Weissenborn, re-introduces something familiar and more traditionally Rudd in the song structure -- with great brush work by Tolley. "The World as We Know It" and the squalling "Up in Flames" -- with its psychedelic didgeridoo -- are politically scathing rockers, with Rudd's poetic look at the world around him standing in contrast to the wonderfully chaotic guitar work. The record winds down as the softer Rudd re-emerges (though electricity is not completely absent) on "Shiver," "Hope You'll Stay," and the closer, "Home!" Dark Shades of Blue is a brave move; Rudd has followed his heart's aesthetic path at the risk of alienating an audience he built from the ground up, who may not accept change so gracefully (let's hope they do because this set smokes). There isn't anything remotely "commercial" about this music, but it is moodier and more involved, sophisticated, and passionate; it reflects the wild turbulence of the current era better than anything he's recorded before. If anything, Dark Shades of Blue is a recording that might actually open some new ears to Rudd's uncompromising -- and even singular -- vision. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

White Moth Play

Xavier Rudd, the Australian-born surf bum cum multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, has been a critic's darling since he made his earliest forays onto tape back in 2001 with his Live in Canada offering. Rudd plays everything from Weissenborn guitars to didgeridoo, djembe, stomp boxes, and various sundry percussion instruments, and he plays them well. On his initial live offering way back when, the word began to spread. His studio records -- which until now have been inferior to his live performances (big surprise there) -- have gained him stardom in his native land and a slowly and steadily growing fan base in the United States, primarily among his Generation Y contemporaries. His live gigs get bigger and better (he's a true star attraction at Bonnaroo), and he's begun to craft his songs more tightly and purposefully, as evidenced by his U.S. debut on Anti, 2005's Food in the Belly. He's made a career out of ethically correct, socially conscious narratives that have been at times preachy and bordering on trite (but then John Mayer's made a career out of it), though his melodies have been infectious and increasingly sophisticated in the manner in which he blends the various folk musics of Australia, rock, reggae, and blues. While Paul Simon has clearly influenced him -- especially in his vocal delivery -- one can hear traces of everyone from Ben Harper to Ziggy Marley and Neil Young in his songs. On White Moth he comes as close as possible to capturing his own live sound, where the immediacy of the performance quantifies with the clarity of the recording studio. Co-produced with Dave Ogilvie (yep, that one: the Skinny Puppy founder, producer, and sideman to David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, NIN, Mötley Crüe, and the Genitorturers must have found his feminine side), this collection is sincere, catchy, and beautifully and organically recorded in British Columbia -- it's the recording Rudd has been trying to make since he came in from the waves. That's not to say the lyrics aren't oh-so-politically correct (Bruce Cockburn offends more people that Rudd does), because they are, but they're woven into a fabric that is tighter and less concerned with making sure his point is heard than with getting a song across, trusting on some level that meaning is generated in doing so.
"Better People" is a straightforward homage to social and environmental activists, played on a resonator guitar with a stomp box, Dave Tolley's drum kit, and Panos Grames' Hammond B-3. The bassline comes from Rudd, playing the bottom strings the way he does live: with more emphasis on the thumbed strings on his fingerpicking hand and mixing them up. The melody is as catchy as anything by Simon, but without the smarmy New York intellect. "Set It Up," later in the record, is a ghostly blues about the environment, where the same instrumentation is used, but to a much spookier and grainier result. "Twist" is a solid reggae number that contemplates one's relationships with one's friends, with Tolley on drums as Rudd plays everything else: slide on an 11-string Weissenborn, his stomp box, and harmonica. It's a paean to family and friends that works, and the jauntiest thing on the set. While the message of "Land Rights," a haunting folk song written in sympathy with the indigenous population of Australia's fabled Arnhem Land and featuring backing vocals by members of Yothu Yindi, is preachy as hell, there is no doubt about its sincerity. And that's where White Moth differs from its predecessors: there's an authority here that was absent before. Whereas previous recordings were somewhat drippy with sincerity and that guilty-white-boy set of social mores about wanting to put things right, this one is guilt-free and is written as if by a citizen of the human race. This is also true in "Whispers," a song to the ghosts of the past who hover about and speak to the elders to impart their wisdom. It doesn't hurt that, along with the interwoven guitars, Kennetch Charlette of the Cree Nation Eagle Clan sings and Mikayngu Mununggurr of the Djapu Clan of Arnhem Land plays the yidaki (didgeridoo).
But there are breezier elements, too: the beautiful "Anni Kookoo," melancholy reflections of an old woman on which the only sound accompanying Rudd's voice is an acoustic guitar; the familial themes celebrated in the title track; and "Stargaze" -- here there is a certain view that is less authoritative and more reflective, almost mystical in places. The tribal moments -- such as "Message Stick," with Charlette and the Yirrkala CEC schoolchildren, who chant wildly as the track is driven solely by percussion instruments and a pair of yidakis -- are drenched with a kind of citizen's conscience, which is different from the observances of a pseudo-intellectual preaching to the choir. Rudd is concerned with writing songs here, not offering cheap slogans, even at his most pedantic. That said, the weight of a wonderfully open harmonic approach, a keen rhythmic sensibility that does more than simply keep time, and a timeless sense of melody are what set him apart from his peers. Hopefully, his association with the jam band crowds will not put him in the same "there-are-the-good-guys" ghetto that Dave Matthews and Ben Harper will never emerge from. White Moth is the album for introducing the alterna-masses to Rudd. It's quality acoustic music outside "freak folk" faux hippie circus and can't be doused with the bloated corpse of the jam band scene. It's as honest as Jackson Browne's early records, and contains a conscience, even if it's not quite as sophisticated. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

Food in the Belly Play

As stereotypes go, a surfer with something worthwhile to say is a contradiction in terms, but Xavier Rudd is no cookie-cutter mold, but a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist with simple, yet profound, thoughts on life to impart. Rudd opens Food in the Belly by taking stock of himself on "The Letter," a song bookended by the highly contemplative and autobiographical "September 24, 1999." Both lay the groundwork for his life-affirming philosophy that revolves around our connections to this wonderful planet, a theme explored on "Energy" and the paean to "The Mother" Earth, and reflected in the ecologically minded "Messages." In nature one can find a tranquility of soul that permeates this entire set, but that doesn't mean that the terrible disturbances of war and disease don't inevitably impinge. Rudd addresses both on "Pockets of Peace," as well as the hunger that inflects so many on "Famine," a song at least partially inspired by Jimmy Cliff's "Sufferin' on the Land." Yet even these horrors can't overcome Rudd's overwhelming optimism, prominent on "Connie's Song" and the hope-filled "Generation Fade," while counseling us all to be grateful for what we have on the title track.
Counterpointing the upbeat messages is the music, often in a decidedly bluesy vein. An accomplished finger-picker and percussionist, and an evocative slide banjo player, Rudd also brings in guest musicians to fill out the sound, incorporating an array of other instruments and even a children's chorus into his music. The instrumental "Mana," for instance, is powered by tablas and a didgeridoo, "Famine" features a slide banjo and a reggae rhythm, while "Peace" slides from surf to psychedelia and "The Mother" delves into a deep funk groove. This may push Food in the Belly into the world music category, although the set doesn't have that kind of feel at all, as virtually all the tracks are built around Rudd's guitars. A fabulous album with much to offer musically, spiritually and thematically, this is one surfer dude who found his true calling on and beyond the waves. ~ Jo-Ann Greene, Rovi

Solace Play

Imagine if Devendra Banhart wasn't trying so hard to be a psychedelic pixie, or if Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Marc Bolan had somehow been reincarnated into the body of Jack Johnson or John Mayer. Either way, you'll come up with something close to the intriguingly bizarre debut album by Australia's Xavier Rudd. As a songwriter, Rudd is a spiritual brother to Johnson and Mayer, not to mention the Brits Ed Harcourt and David Gray: A mellow singer/songwriter throwback to the good old days of James Taylor and Cat Stevens, with an additional fondness for reggae that leads him to introduce island rhythms into his songs and cover Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry." As a singer, however, Rudd possesses this kind of man-child squeak of a voice that's so startling to the listener at first that you'll spend at least half of the rambling opening track, "Shelter," trying to gauge whether or not it's a put-on. The disconnect between the otherwise standard-issue and if anything slightly colorless songs and Rudd's bizarre warble of a voice is immense, and it may well be a deal-breaker for many listeners, but those who accustom themselves to it might find Solace a compelling listen. ~ Stewart Mason, Rovi
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