As a reviewer or critic you’re supposed to provide some sort of objective opinion on whatever it is you’re writing about. You look at a group or person’s work within the context of the genre they work in and ask yourself how they stack up against others like them. After a few years of doing this you get so it becomes almost rote. However the difficulty comes when you come across somebody who won’t let you be objective. You start gushing all over the page about how damn amazing somebody is and nobody is going take your review seriously, it will dismissed as the ravings of some fan. Well, even music critics can be fans. I know that sounds like a stretch to some of you. It’s cool to think critics hate music and only exist to run down your favourites or to say nasty things about people you like. Well, I can be as nasty as the next person. Ask me how I feel about the music industry in general or some of the so called celebrities/singers who somehow are referred to as artists and watch me go. But I also genuinely love music.
Normally I find a way to list the reasons I like someone’s work without crossing over the line so the review becomes a fan letter. However, for some reason when it comes to Xavier Rudd, all I can ever come up with is “holy shit, this guy is fucking awesome”. While that’s a lot shorter than my reviews tend to run (and according to some that’s a positive) it doesn’t really tell you much about him, his music, or why I think he’s so great. The problem is Rudd is one of the few musical artists around these days who I react to on a purely emotional level. I’ve been listening to a downloaded copy of his latest release, Spirit Bird, coming out on Side One Dummy records June 5 2012, for about a week now and I still haven’t been able to figure out how to put into words the effect the CD has on me.
I could tell you that Rudd is an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist who plays slide guitar, regular guitar, percussion, drums, and the indigenous Australian instrument the yidakis (referred to as didgeridoo by Europeans). Not only does he play all these instruments, but when he appears in concert he is set up so he can be playing as many as possible as once. Pictures of him on stage show him sitting in the centre of a construct literally bristling with instruments: a row of yidakis in the front, top hat snares off to each side, stomp box and bass drum pedals at his feet, and assorted percussion scattered around within easy reach. Then he begins to sing.
His vocal range is equally impressive as he ranges from a forceful alto right up to almost falsetto on occasion. Yet, unlike others, when he forges up into the higher altitudes of his scale the quality of his vocal expression doesn’t change. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect. Most people have enough difficulty obtaining the high notes they are satisfied merely with reaching them and usually end up sacrificing expression in the attempt. With Rudd, the higher he goes the more he seems to be opening himself up emotionally and spiritually for his audience. It’s like his connection to the heart and soul of what he is singing intensifies the further up the scale he goes. In some cases when people reach into the higher ranges, it starts to become uncomfortable to the ear and the sound makes you wince. Somehow Rudd seems to bypass the ear and heads directly to your heart the further up the scale he climbs.
In the past there has been a decided reggae influence to Rudd’s music and traces of that can still be heard on Spirit Bird. However, over the course of his career he has evolved from being the accompaniment for surfers and late night beach parties (not only were some of his songs featured in the movie Surfer Dude, he wrote parts of the movie’s score) with an environmental conscience to singing about having a spiritual bond with the planet and the compassion required to create it. While every song on Spirit Bird is related to this subject in some manner or another, not once does it feel like he’s preaching to his listeners or even telling them this is how they should live. Instead he give us his vision of the potential for a better world.