Xavier Rudd

An Australia-born, Canada-based one-man band who made his global debut with a 2001 album recorded (and titled) Live in Canada, Xavier Rudd is only now debuting stateside — oddly enough, with a year-old full-length that's already achieved gold status in his home country. Considering the American niche-market successes of Rudd's kindred spirits and touring partners Ani DiFranco and Jack Johnson, it's amazing it took him this long to get a U.S. deal. Rudd's sixth album, Food in the Belly, closes the aesthetic gap between Johnson and Paul Simon — not only because Rudd, besides being a gifted surfer and folk guitarist, is also a vocal dead ringer for Simon, but also because of how deftly his songs unite pop conventions and indigenous traditions, love songs and protest music. That's not to say Food in the Belly is Graceland meets the Curious George soundtrack (although in the childlike melodies and laid-back vibes of "Connie's Song," it gets close): As much as Rudd recalls these giants in album standouts such as the deftly fingerpicked "Messages" and the blues-accented title track, he employs a unique mastery of instruments — from slide banjo to acoustic guitar, didgeridoo to wooden resonator box — and a sunny-yet-ominous world view to build his own private island to the north of them.

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