For Xavier Rudd, music is all about making connections |

For Xavier Rudd, music is all about making connections

Australian singer and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd plays a two-night stand this week at Belly Up Aspen. (James Looker)

There is a gentle, practically innocent, almost naive quality to Xavier Rudds music. On his latest album White Moth, released in June, Rudd opens with Better People, which addresses the worlds do-gooders: You people saving whales, giving your thanks to the seas / My respect to the ones in the forest, standing up for our old trees, he sings, in a tone that sounds like a prayer. The rest of the album, Rudds fourth, follows in similar fashion, with earnest, optimistic expressions floating on waves of a folk-reggae beat.In Rudds case, such bright-eyed hopefulness plays particularly well. His 2004 album, Solace, was certified platinum in his native Australia. He spent much of last year touring as the opening act for the Dave Matthews Band, and has been on the bill at most of the worlds major music festivals, including, in the States, Bonnaroo and High Sierra. Rudd plays a two-night stand this week in Aspen, Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 15-16, at Belly Up Aspen.One way to explain the popularity is that Rudd is a talented and unique instrumentalist. On his current tour, he plays most of the show solo; Dave Tolley, a Canadian drummer and percussionist who appears on White Moth, joins him for roughly half the show. But Rudd is anything but a simple, stand-up guitar-strummer. Set up onstage amidst an array of tools and toys, Rudd plays slide guitar, stomp boxes, harmonica and percussion, many of them simultaneously. When he does play acoustic guitar, he employs a technique that lets him play bass lines as well as finger-picked melodies.Rudd is 29 years old, which gives his sunny outlook an untainted feel. But probably the fundamental reason his optimism doesnt have a saccharine taste is that he doesnt pretend to know everything about the world. His songs can be insistent: on Footprints, from White Moth, he sings There are leaders who lead / Our leaders prefer to deceive. But more often than not, there is a questioning, searching tone to the lyrics. On the bubbly Twist, also from White Moth, he asks Everybody can you lay back together, stargaze together, and it is a request, not a demand.Rudd is not even so sure about his own path in life. He talks often about his journey, one that clearly includes respect for people and the environment. But the core of his quest has to do with connecting to Australias Aboriginals. White Moth features contributions from several singers descended from Australias indigenous tribes, and Rudds recordings and live show prominently feature the didgeridoo or Yidaki, as he often calls it a signature wind instrument, usually made of natural wood, of the Aboriginals.But Rudd isnt clear how he was set onto this path. It wasnt the didgeridoo that originally called to him; after singing constantly as a young child, he finally tried his lungs on a wind instrument the end of a vacuum cleaner. It worked pretty good. But my mother told me to stop that, he said by phone from a tour stop in Santa Clara.So he moved on to the didgeridoo. The instrument is associated mostly with the north of Australia, while Rudd was raised on the southern coast, in the town of Jan Juc. Still, the didgeridoo was a fairly familiar sight and, moreover, there was a visceral attraction.Its born into me. I just had a connection, said Rudd, speaking softly, almost in a mumble. Its a part of my whole journey, a connection to my journey.That journey begins with an actual spirit. Even as a child, Rudd felt himself joined by another presence, that of an older woman. Rudd says it is something difficult to talk about possibly because the subject is, by its nature, so ethereal, and partly because he just doesnt know many of the particulars of this spirit being.Im not too sure where she came from. She may have come from the place the Yidaki existed, said Rudd, adding that he has suspicions that the spirit may be that of a great-grandmother of his. Theres an old woman who Ive understood as being with me since Im a boy. Shes Aboriginal, I think.Any ties between music and this elder spirit are equally cloudy. Im not sure whether the Yidaki is a way for me to connect with her people, or if its just part of me, said Rudd.Rudd is, however, convinced that the womans presence is an essential part of him. Elders in different places have said they have seen the spirit in Rudd. So people are able to see her, he said. But not me. I just feel her.And Rudd takes the presence seriously, examining it in his songs. Whispers, from White Moth, opens by noting Ive seen you somewhere before, but the singer concludes, Its been too many moons / My mind is too young and I cant place it. He also takes the spirit as a sign to work on behalf of the Aboriginals. Land Rights pleads for recognition of their ancestral territory. Outside of music, Rudd is an activist for Aboriginal rights He says he feels motivated to make more connections with this special journey Im on. In Australia, theres a lack of understanding of our original heritage. That spirit is still strong, probably stronger than [that of native tribes] in the U.S. Its critical to pass that education on before its too late. So any opportunity I get, I try to make that awareness.Another apparently big influence on Rudd is reggae. Some of his rhythms seem lifted straight out of Jamaica, and the spiritual element is akin to roots reggae. There are even hints of Jamaican dance hall.Rudd acknowledges the influence: The brightness, the sunniness comes from that, he said. But he says he is largely unfamiliar with the culture from which reggae sprang, and thus doesnt claim it as a visceral influence.I havent been exposed to it at the right place and the right time, to the spiritual connection, the culture and the religion, he said. But from my basic understanding, it seems to make sense.

Rudd may not be well-acquainted with the spirit that has been living in him for 20-some years. Far clearer is the fact that the valleys music calendar for the rest of the ski season in getting filled up, and with many impressive acts.Start with Rudds opening act for the two-night stand, Mishka. He may come from half a world away from Rudd he was born in Bermuda, and spent much of his childhood sailing the Caribbean with his family but Mishka comes from a similar musical spot. The 33-year-old picked up the reggae vibe, and his folky, acoustic take on Jamaican roots is featured on a pair of albums.Various forms of reggae, as always, are prominent on the Belly Up calendar. English reggae singer Pato Banton, backed by Californias Mystic Roots Band, is set for Friday, Jan. 19. Eek-a-Mouse brings his unique Jamaican patois to the club Monday, Jan. 21. The Wailers, featuring members of Bob Marleys former backing band, play a two-night stand March 29-30.Also staying over for two nights, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, at Belly Up is singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Keller Williams. But Williams, who has appeared several times in the area recently as a one-man band, will have some company. He will be backed by the WMDs, comprising String Cheese Incident bassist Keith Moseley, guitarist Gibb Droll, and drummer Jeff Apt. Q-258 Sipe, who has been a member of Leftover Salmon, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead and others.Big-time country makes a rare appearance at Belly Up as Texan Pat Green performs Sunday, Jan. 13. Even rarer a big-time pop-metal act: Queensrche, joined by singer Don Dokken, for an evening of The Hits Acoustic on Jan. 22.Rapper Wyclef Jean, of the Fugees, returns to the club Jan. 30. Also in the rap field is Galactic, performing Feb. 14. The New Orleans quintet is usually in the groove-jazz realm, but their recent album, From the Corner to the Block, was a hip-hop outing featuring a slew of rappers and producers. Still touring in that vein, the Belly Up show will feature rapper Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5, and MC Ohmega Watts. Theres a big week shaping up at Belly Up come mid-February. On Feb. 18, proto-funk band George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic performs, with Stockholm Syndrome a rock band featuring singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph and Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools making its Aspen debut the following night. Feb. 20 is blank (for now) but the club comes roaring back with Southern rockers the Drive-by Truckers on Feb. 21, and a solo acoustic show by soulman Martin Sexton on Feb. 22. Drive-by Truckers, who put on a stunning acoustic concert at Belly Up last spring, returns this time with their full-on electric show and a brilliant new album, Brighter Than Creations Dark.Also: Lyle Lovett (Jan. 22) and the Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars (Feb. 8) at the Wheeler Opera House; and free shows in the Aspen Skiing Companys Hi-Fi Concert Series by rock trio Dinosaur Jr. (Jan. 24, in downtown Aspen), blues-rockers the North Mississippi Allstars (Feb. 17, on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village), and Neil Diamond tribute band Super Diamond (March 28, downtown Aspen)

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