Xavier Rudd,
Food in the Belly
(Anti-, 2007)

(Red House, 2007)

Since popular music, like all of popular culture, is a process of endless recycling, it is -- so the evidence now alerts us -- time for Simon & Garfunkel. In the present instance, Storyhill holds the S&G, while Xavier Rudd drops the &G.

An acoustic-pop duo, Storyhill consists of Chris Cunningham and John Hermanson, who grew up together in Bozeman, Montana, clearly influenced by 1960s and '70s radio music of the sensitive singer-songwriter variety. The promotional material that comes with this, not the duo's first album but its first for the well-regarded Red House (Greg Brown, Eliza Gilkyson, Jorma Kaukonen, Spider John Koerner, Guy Davis, et al.), avers that Cunningham and Hermanson are anchored in "roots, blues and country." I don't believe it. This is peach-fuzz-mustache music, as S&G's was, for the earnest and youthful, awash in deep and melancholy thoughts. In other words, the anchor, such as it is, rests at the bottom of a fairly shallow stream.

It's pleasant enough, however -- nice harmonies, smoothly crafted melodies, capable production (by Dan Wilson) that fits other instruments comfortably alongside the strummed acoustic guitars. But I am certain that how you respond to it can be precisely correlated with how old you are. Truth be told, I am too old for it, and I don't hear anything on it that takes me back to the 20-year-old's existential delirium into which "Sounds of Silence" once sank me (and still sinks me, in fact; on the uncommon occasion that I hear it, I know that impressionable, gloomily romantic young man is still there, somewhere).

Australian singer-songwriter (and professional surfer) Xavier Rudd sounds a whole lot like Paul Simon -- I defy anyone, unless warned otherwise, not to deduce on the spot that it's Simon singing "Messages" -- except that I'd rather listen to Rudd any day. For one thing, Rudd's arrangements, while sophisticated, aren't cluttered and distracting. They don't defy you to listen and stay awake at the same time. Simon could pick up some pointers.

If your tastes run to what pass for high-brow lyrics set inside respectable pop-rock songs, you will like Food in the Belly, and even if you don't, I doubt you will find anything to put you in a sour humor. Besides, "Messages" -- Simon impersonation or no -- is a very good song, delivered with wit and high spirits. If there must be musical performers who sound like English majors with lots of Asian and African albums in their collections, Rudd ought to be stepping proudly to the front of the class.

Seriously, this is not bad at all. Quite a bit better, actually.

by Jerome Clark
2 June 2007

Buy Food in the Belly from Amazon.com.

Buy Storyhill from Amazon.com.