There’s a long tradition of acoustic artists plugging in, and Australian singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd now joins an esteemed list that includes the likes of Dylan and DiFranco. With 2007’s White Moth as a stepping stone and touring partner and drummer Dave Tolley along for the ride, Rudd’s latest effort, Dark Shades of Blue, is richer and more dynamic, experimental and psychedelic than his previous releases. It also brings with it loads of distortion and pedal effects that weren’t necessarily missed on albums like Food in the Belly. Instrumental opener “Black Water” sets the tone with a Hendrix-style riff followed by Xavier’s signature yirdaki and then a full-on Sabbath-inspired assault before segueing seamlessly into the title track, but it’s not until the third track, “Secrets,” that Dark Shades begins to really feel like a Rudd record. Atop a gentle, organ-infused reggae groove, Rudd tempers his pointed condemnation of clandestine government policies with hope (“Many people on a mission to unite/Comin’ up slowly”), while on “This World as We Know It,” he quips plainly, “I was given two eyes and I see.” Change is a core theme on Dark Shades: people are seeking it on “Secrets,” wind brings it on the spiritual walkabout “Shiver,” and children are the source of it on “Up in Flames.” “Edge of the Moon” is the kind of feel-good-‘til-it’s-icky hippie anthem you might expect from Dave Matthews Band or Jack Johnson, but by the time the choir kicks in with their chant of “Take the hand of the one you choose!,” it’s admittedly hard to resist.
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