Xavier Rudd: Spirit Bird

He’s back! Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd just released his seventh studio album, Spirit Bird. Xavier is one of my all-time favorite artists and his music never fails to amaze, uplift and thoroughly entertain me. While his previous release celebrated his relationship with his touring band, Xavier went back to solo basics for Spirit Bird. Save for a few guest singers, Xavier wrote, sang and played every instrument (of which there are many) on this spectacular new collection.

There’s just nothing like the sound of a yidaki (didgeridoo), Xavier’s signature instrument. Its distinctive rumble opens the album on the breathtaking “Lioness Eye.”

Sweet harmonica heralds “Comfortable In My Skin,” a beautiful and wistful exploration of suffering both internal and external. The song conveys so much with its deceptively simple lyrics – self-acceptance, longing for an old love, physical pain and emotional anguish over world conditions.

The album’s title track is a gorgeous, soaring acoustic ballad featuring backing vocals by children from Cape Byron Rudolph Steiner School.

“Bow Down” quakes with the bluesy rock that marked 2010’s Dark Shades of Blue, aided by the backing wails of Anishinabe First Nations Big Drum Group.

Xavier’s yidaki makes a thunderous return on the mesmeric “Culture Bleeding,” mingling with Xavier’s own wails, bird calls, Cape Byron’s children’s choir and guest vocals by MC Odds’ Freddy Leone.

“Paper Thin” softly sings of the fear of old wounds reopening in a newly reconciled love.

The finale “Creating a Dream” plays like the Aboriginal sequel to Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Every one of Xavier’s albums since 2007’s Food in the Belly has been at the top of my Albums of the Year list. Spirit Bird will surely be no exception.

You can download a free, legal mp3 of the album’s title track at Rolling Stone and stream “Comfortable in My Own Skin” at American Songwriter.

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Xavier Rudd Official Site

Xavier Rudd: Koonyum Sun

Singer-songwriter and didgeridoo virtuoso Xavier Rudd will release his new album Koonyum Sun on April 19th. As I said when I first posted the download link for “Love Comes and Goes” back in February, “with the exception of Hadestown and Allison Crowe’s upcoming Spiral, Xavier’s Koonyum Sun is my most anticipated album of 2010.” Until recently, I said that Xavier Rudd was my favorite contemporary male artist. After hearing this new album and thinking about his entire catalogue (two of his releases were on my Best of the Decade list), I must revise that statement. Xavier Rudd is my favorite artist, full stop.

The opener “Sky to Ground” initially seems to scale back to the simpler acoustics of Xavier’s earlier works, but the song soon bursts into a rock guitar riff recalling the harder sound of Dark Shades of Blue. The Koonyum Soon album as a whole is a beautiful, atmospheric marriage of these two distinct styles.

Many of the tracks – such as “Set Me Free,” the harmonica accented “Fresh Green Freedom,” and psychedelic folk-rock number “Bleed” – combine rock guitar thunder with haunting tribal percussion and chants. Weaved throughout are Xavier’s signature mellow acoustics, multi-faceted voice, and environmentally conscious lyrics.

The soft arrangement of “Love Comes & Goes” is certainly a familiar style for Xavier, but the post-breakup lyrical content is something very new for him. Xavier’s site says 2009 was “a tumultuous year” for him, and lyrics like “no other pain like losing a soulmate” and “picking up the pieces of a broken nest” indicate this song was inspired by the loss of a relationship. Whatever his motivation, Xavier has written the perfect anthem for the brokenhearted.

In contrast, the plucky buoyancy of “Time to Smile” seems to illustrate the joy Xavier feels when performing with his new band Izintaba. Izintaba is a new trio Xavier formed with South African bassist Tio Moloantoa and drummer Andile Nqubezelo, with whom Xavier says he shares an “an undeniable connection – musically, spiritually, and emotionally.”

With the exception of the finale “Badimo,” Xavier’s trademark didgeridoo is conspicuously absent this time around. It’s occasionally used to add texture to the percussion on other songs, but you have to listen very attentively to hear it. I do miss the deep sound of that unique instrument, but otherwise Koonyum Soon is yet another breathtaking masterpiece that’s sure to land Xavier Rudd at the top of my year end list again.

Xavier’s website is offering a free, legal m4a download of the new song “Love Comes and Goes” to anyone who signs up for his official email list at the following link:

Xavier Rudd – Love Comes and Goes (download page) *

*link provided by artist’s official newsletter, you must sign up w/ an email address to access the download.

Buy @ Amazon

Xavier Rudd

Muruch’s Xavier Rudd Reviews

Xavier Rudd Official Site

Xavier Rudd: New Song Download

My favorite contemporary male artist and didgeridoo extraordinaire Xavier Rudd will release his new album Koonyum Sun on April 19th. With the exception of Hadestown and Allison Crowe’s upcoming Spiral, Xavier’s Koonyum Sun is my most anticipated album of 2010.

Xavier’s website is offering a free, legal m4a download of the new song “Love Comes and Goes” to anyone who signs up for his official email list at the following link:

Xavier Rudd – Love Comes and Goes (download page) *

*link provided by artist’s official newsletter, you must sign up w/ an email address to access the download.

Pre-order @ Amazon (not yet available)

Muruch’s Xavier Rudd Reviews

Xavier Rudd Official Site

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

In addition to my usual year end lists, I’ve also compiled Best of the Decade lists. Following are my favorite albums that were released between 2000-2009…

Muruch’s Best of the Decade: Albums

25. Muse: The Resistance

This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”

Buy @ Amazon

24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit

It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.

Buy @ Amazon

Buy @ Artist’s Site

23. Soundtrack: Once

The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”

Buy @ Amazon

22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons

Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.

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21. Pina: Quick Look

Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.

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20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones

My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.

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19. Hem: Funnel Cloud

I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.

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18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados

As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”

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17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness

My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”

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14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue

Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”

Buy @ Amazon

15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back

I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.

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14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep

I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.

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13. Flogging Molly: Swagger

This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.

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12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory

In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.

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11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads

My #1 album of 2009. As I said in my review: “I can’t imagine a more perfect score for my favorite novel of all time.”

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10. Mary Timony: Mountains

I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.

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9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily

My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.

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8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall

Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*

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7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling

I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.

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6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth

I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!

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5. Damien Rice: O

Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.

Buy @ Amazon

4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.

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3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.

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2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World

In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…

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1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls

Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.

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*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist