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White Moth

Xavier Rudd

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Album Review

Xavier Rudd, the Australian-born surf bum c*m 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.

Customer Reviews

New album sounds like a Greatest Hits collection!

This is by far the most consistent album by Xavier to date. There are some instant classics on here like Better People and Come Let Go. He sounds like a mix of Paul Simon, Bob Marley and Dave Mathews all at once if that is possible! This album and his touring of the USA with the aforementioned Dave Mathews Band should secure a much deserved wider audience. One of Australia's best talents today.

Focused roots - & didgeridoo rythms...

If you've heard Xavier's previous work - then you will be familiar with this excellent album. He has expanded on his previous 2 studio albums, with smooth rolling sounds, and some heavy stomp beats. The later songs of White Moth explore a the raw traditional sounds of the native australian tribe, while incorporating more modern roots and blues transitions. By far Xavier's most accomplished album.....ENJOY!

Not Xav's best...

I'm a huge fan of Xavier and have all his albums, but this would probably be his worst. Sounds a bit too much like the other albums - and isn't that original. Its a long way from the amazing Solace or even the epic "To Let". You wont find any songs like that on this album - in fact, you'll struggle to find anything that would make his greatest hits. Still worth a listen, as he is ever talented and ever creative - he just may have lost some of his earlier magic.

Biography

Born: 29 May 1978 in Victoria, Australia

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Like Jack Johnson, independent Australian musician Xavier Rudd combines a love of surfing with a love of roots music. Like Ben Harper, he plays Weissenborn lap steel guitars. Utterly unlike both of those musicians, however, he has a unique setup. Rudd is a one-man band who plays surrounded by instruments in a complicated array: typically, he has three didgeridoos placed in front of him on a stand, a guitar on his lap, a stomp box by his habitually bare feet, and an assortment of drums, banjos, harmonicas,...
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White Moth, Xavier Rudd
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