Xavier Rudd goes after bigger sounds
August 29, 2008
SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Through his career to date, it has seemed apparent that what Xavier Rudd was seeking to spread was a dose of mellowness and spirituality, while also serving up gentle reminders that there were problems, in our hearts and our environment, that needed attention.
It turns out we might have misread Rudd. Or, possibly, that Rudd himself hadn’t quite honed his message, and the way he delivered it, to his satisfaction. Which is understandable, given that the Australian singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has only just entered his 30s, and his recorded output, until last week, numbered just three albums.
“Dark Shades of Blue,” released 10 days ago, changes the perception of Rudd. The title itself should give a warning that this is a serious contrast to Rudd’s last release, last year’s “White Moth.” Sharp-eyed readers of CD credits will note that the new project was mixed by Joe Barresi, who has worked with such heavy-sounding bands as Queens of the Stone Age and Tool. That association bears significant weight; “Dark Shades of Blue” is noticeably thicker, more aggressive and loud in its tones that Rudd’s previous albums. There are gentle moments, like “Hope That You’ll Stay,” which features Rudd quietly picking his Chaturangui slide guitar, a 22-string Indian instrument that is one of many exotic pieces of equipment Rudd plays. But the softer moments feel like a respite from the overall tenor, dominated by Rudd’s throbbing slide guitar noises, reminiscent of Ben Harper’s more forceful moments.
“I think we’ve achieved with this album what I’m trying to achieve for a long time,” he said by phone from Canada’s Vancouver Island, where he is visiting his wife’s parents. “We used a lot more speakers, to try to get that volume that we get live. We’re trying to get movement, to move the air.”
The sound of “Dark Shades of Blue” makes it harder to peg Rudd as the barefooted, mystical, shaggy-haired, surfer dude which is very much a part of his makeup. But Rudd says this is not a result of internal changes, nor a shift in his focus, but a realization of what he has wanted to accomplish all along.
“I think there’s always been light and dark in my music,” said Rudd, who performs Friday, at 5 p.m., on the main stage at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Festival in Snowmass Village, on a bill with British groove band the New Mastersounds and headliner Widespread Panic. “But I think we’ve captured the darker side better. It’s easy to capture the sunshine ” that’s in the nature of my instruments. They’re bright, with a beautiful sweetness in all these instruments. They’re all made out of wood, beautiful wood. All the heavy tones on the album are those instruments, but now you can hear them growl. I’ve achieved that spectrum of tone.”
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Rudd also achieves that full range of sounds by employing a huge arsenal. When Rudd he talks of “all these instruments,” he’s not talking about a few brands of electric guitars. Jazz Aspen’s official festival program lists all of Rudd’s instruments, and it stretches to an almost comical length, with a variety of slide guitars, organ, bass, and the didgeridoo, a wind instrument which Rudd calls by the name Australia’s Aboriginals use, the Yirdaki. Rudd often plays several instruments ” guitar, drum, Yirdaki ” all at once, meaning he can recreate the volume of “Dark Shades of Blue” in the live setting. A drummer, Dave Tolley, generally joins Rudd for about half of the set.
Rudd says he is leaving room for a bassist in his latest songwriting efforts, and that his next album might reveal an even bigger sound. For now, he is joined onstage only by Tolley.
Or at least, that’s the only collaborator that the audience can see. Rudd says that, since he was a child, he has felt that he is inhabited by the presence of an old woman. Rudd has only a shaky grasp of who this is; he suspects she might be Aboriginal. But he is fairly certain that she has an influence on his music.
“I don’t try to chase it around in my head,” he said. “But I feel it strong and respected. Maybe I’ll understand it someday, maybe I won’t.
“She’s part of the reason for my journey. A lot of my music, I’m just a vehicle for it. I feel like it’s coming from another place. And it comes through very strong.”