- Artist: Xavier Rudd
- Title: Dark Shades of Blue
- Released: 2008
- Format: CD
- Genre: Rock/Reggae/Singer-Songwriter
- Beverage of Choice: Milk (from a cow, not the juice of a nut)
From the first notes of the opening track you know you’re in for something ‘different’ with this album. A swirling mix of Weissenborn guitar feedback and then yirdaki (the aboriginal term for a didgeridoo), the sound is familiar for those in the know with Xavier Rudd but more concentrated, heavy and intense. The instrumental track “Black Water” emanates a darker vibe than Rudd’s typically optimistic, peace-and-nature loving compositions and segues without a break into the title track with more big guitar sounds and Rudd’s voice, as ever, emotional and distinctive in pitch and timber.
This is the kind of music I was waiting for Rudd to release after I was introduced to his brand of Australian surf/earth/socially aware and political music on 2005’s Food in the Belly. I heard blues notes all over that album and felt that he could step up the intensity and depth of his output with some heavier focus on drums and guitar; here is the evidence of that suspicion. Even the poppier tracks are darker and more layered with reverb, distortion and Rudd’s excellent slide work. And this is his ‘guitar’ album with acoustic, electric, slide and resonator all used more intentionally and provocatively across the tracks to anchor the music in rock/blues vibes. Rudd’s soloing is wonderful, sometimes channeling Hendrix in spontaneity and expression.
“Secrets” is rhythmically a reggae tune but not reggae that you’ve heard before – sophisticated and nuanced, vocals sweeping in and out throughout the track with distortion and Dave Tolley’s drumming emphasizing the heavier aspects in the beat, giving free reign to the resonator guitar to assert it’s own voice, stamping the track with Zeppelinesque voicing and style. Another fine piece of slide guitar solo towards the end of the track – just try and avoid swaying and tapping to this one!
“Guku” is more of the regular Xavier Rudd-type sound and structure with it’s aboriginal background vocals, yirdaki and rhythm; great use of the Weissenborn and effects/stompbox to create an aura of longing and nostalgia. “Edge of the Moon” is a blues-based effort extended, once again, to a reggae feel and something of a sing-along.
Lyrically, Rudd stays fairly narrowly focused on themes of nature, social consciousness, relationships to the earth and home. He is outspoken about his Australian natural heritage and is clearly in love with his country if not enamored with the politics and actions of the past. Generally optimistic and hopeful for a future where we are all one, united against hate and violence, Rudd is right on point for this generation and not heavy-handed with his message. Activism without the self-righteousness that so often accompanies it. “This World as We Know It” is an example with solid rock beat, didgeridoo rhythm section and driving guitar/distorted vocals delivering a 1-2 punch along with the political message -not pointing any fingers specifically but acknowledging that as things change, we need to step outside of ourselves and see if it’s change worth adopting.
“Shiver” is a quieter track with clear vocals and acoustic guitar accompanied with swirling background vocals. The middle break echoes with tom-toms, organ and harmony and is a wonderful break from the general intensity of the album while being moving and emotionally resonant. “Uncle” starts quietly and beautifully with a chant and then extends into more Weissenborn distortion and high-tom swirling drum pattern, sounding like a U2/Tool mashup. Rudd’s vocals are restrained and distorted, evoking melancholy ; then the beat intensifies and sharpens to create a driving rock foundation for the rest of the track. Rudd displays some great arranging skills along with his instrumental prowess; my favorite (and longest) track on this album as it brings together all the stylistic elements that make Rudd a distinctive and accomplished musician.
“Up in Flames” atypically jumps right into a heavy rock riff and sounds like a 70’s throwback, something that Sabbath/UFO/Aerosmith could lay claim to (except for the yirdaki break of course). It’s the most straightforward tune on the album but that also makes it good and satisfying for old metal-heads like me.
The final two tracks are more typically associated with Rudd’s output; “Hope that You’ll Stay” is another change in mood and pace opening with resonator guitar, eastern tuning, tabla and quiet vocals, simultaneously reflective and introspective. Wonderful guitar work from Rudd on this one; listen closely on good headphones for the full effect of all the various guitar parts coming together in harmony. “Home” is a folk song in pattern, vocals and instrumentation (even using strings towards the end) and a fitting conclusion to an album delivered outside the run-of-the-mill music industry and so well-imagined, written and executed. Listen to this one all the way through if you get the chance, the music will reward you in it’s authenticity, richness and soul.