Dark Shade of Blue – Xavier Rudd
Dark Shade of Blue – Xavier Rudd, Anti-
Pass It Around – Donavon Frankenreiter, Lost Highway
Maybe it has something to do with the circuitous sound of waves rolling to shore followed by the water pulled back to the ocean. For me its a vastly relaxing sound. On a family vacation I couldnt help but leave the window open in order to hear that push and pull again and again. Even now, I use a white noise machine locked on to the waves channel. Perhaps, thats why Jack Johnson and his fellow surfers/musicians Donavon Frankenreiter and Xavier Rudd originally produced music that evokes the feeling of sand between your toes, and nature calming ones frayed nerves with its persistent call and response. (Of course, that doesnt explain how Eddie Vedder can still be so intense, but thats for some other time)
Calling the music mellow wouldnt qualify when describing the low-key energetic pace. Listeners, obviously, understood that attitude. They could feel as if they are traveling to those places via the soundtrack supplied by the threesome. At the very least, it became the soundtrack to a good buzz. And you could feel good about yourself because the lyrics were pro-environment! With boyhood buddy Frankenreiter, Johnson found a prot that moved among a similar sonic path. For Australian Rudd he also found a linkage with Ben Harper due to his guitar of choice and playing approach on his lap. For fans of the originals it was a method of receiving another serving without feeling as if they had been served.
And during those early years for Frankenreiter and Rudd, I must admit I didnt pay much attention based on running into much of the same. Whether it was coincidental creativity or a reaction to sustaining a career all four artists took steps to avoid any traps that came about through crossover musical relationships. Johnson has slightly altered his m.o. with a backing band while Harper, through environment or approach, finds new ways to mix his rock/blues/gospel sound. As for Frankenreiter, he took major steps on 2006s Move By Yourself by draping his songs in a Slacker Soul approach thats influenced by classic 60s and 70s soul and meshes with the sleepy-eyed pulse of someone operating from a smoky haze; discharging sparks but never catching fire. In Rudds case it was a matter of baby steps. Footprint, off of last years White Moth may have been blessed with the grizzled guitar tone of Harpers but it denoted a change of direction. Surrounded by so many delicate acoustic tracks, it stood out as more of a fly in the ointment occurrence than an announcement of things to come. Who could have guessed, based on that one number, that Rudd enjoyed turning up his amp to 11 and just letting it rip? I certainly was surprised when I caught a portion of his set at the 2007 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. With his drummer Dave Tolley sharing an equal presence by pounding the hell out of the skins, Rudd reveled in the volume-drenched set. And with his fifth studio effort, Dark Shades of Blue, he continues in that direction, making something that may not be expected after the tranquility of previous material but one that these ears had hoped to hear.
The opening instrumental track, Black Water, ups the ante of Footprint. Its the sound of tube amplifiers system melting away from exertion. A segue into the title track provides more distortion-enhanced ferocity with something akin to the Bad Brains metallic take on reggae. The guitar tone he deploys on much of the album wont dismiss all the comparisons to Harper, but the powerful tandem playing gives the Australian musician a little space to call his own. This direction suits Rudds dark mood quite well, a representation of the state of the world found by this touring musician, father, husband and inhabitant of this planet called Earth. He seems more than happy to oblige this new musical world on Secrets and This World As We Know It. On Edge of the Moon he sounds positively mad and crushed with events as he uses the interplay with himself and Tolley to keep the world at bay. If only I could figure out how to make a loop of the songs swaying chorus it would become my ringtone. And I would never answer my cell again in order to let it play out during each incoming call.
Just as the sound indicates a new Xavier Rudd, his vocals demonstrate different personas that morph from the reggae numbers to something akin to Peter Gabriel on the sweeping ballads (Guku). My only gripe lies within the albums construction. The build up on Shiver gives the impression of the albums peak dramatic moment; a resolve to stay the course despite the obstacles that the 21st century has laid out. Its placement makes the final numbers unfold like an encore as Rudd revisits the template he crafted on the albums earlier numbers. In the end it not only softens the emotional impact of Shiver, but allows Dark Shades Of Blue to fade out rather than demonstratively make a statement.
With a little help from Harper, G. Love and Grant Lee Phillips, Frankenreiter discovers new areas of musical expression on Pass It Around. The Slacker Soul style can be found here as well as other examples that hes making strides at carving out his own musical identity. The single, Life, Love & Laughter, displays this ability. Supported by an amiable hook and assisted from a loose band-driven arrangement, the song gains added depth with a theme that extols the yoga-like virtues of concentrating on the here and now. Its followed by Too Much Water, which relies on a breezy pop foundation, ala Ed Harcourt, while Your Heart has an endearing pop quality with a twist provided by mariachi horns. And although the music scene doesnt need another number that can become an easy marijuana reference, he is clever enough on the title track to go beyond another ode to toking and turn it into a statement that supports a THC-free life as being equal to those who do imbibe.
Still, there are moments when Frankenreiters unable to let go of the wave-inducing mellowness of the past. The overly familiar sentiments on Come With Me and Mansions on the Sand, provide unnecessary nods to his self-titled debut. Its as if hes cheating with an old girlfriend who was holding him back oh so many years ago. Like Rudds Dark Shades Of Blue, Frankenreiter should be faithful to his new musical directions.