Australian one-man band Xavier Rudd has several albums behind him; most of them recorded solo with himself playing all instruments. But on his 2010 release Koonyum Sun he invited several other musicians to join him. And on Nanna he has invited several more and now performs with a full-blown band.
Nanna was recorded in Australia together with eight musicians from Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia and he has named the group The United Nations, a name that corresponds with Xavier Rudd’s reflective save-the-world messages that he has delivered for a decade or so.
Xavier Rudd is no stranger to reggae, but this is his first full reggae album. It was mixed by the legendary Errol Brown at Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, and it’s a dynamic melting pot of reggae, blues, rock, world and folk music along with fascinating arrangements and unexpected tempo changes. Check the title track for example or Creancient, both are something like trancey workouts clocking in at over five minutes.
Nanna can be a bit avant-garde, but it is at the same time rural, organic and true to its reggae roots with plenty of thick bass lines, smattering percussion, tight drums and militant horns. Album opener Flag is superb, vital roots reggae, and so is the single Come People with its funky brass.
The backing vocalists play a major part in the greatness of this album. This is because Xavier Rudd has a voice that is an acquired taste. His style is similar to Groundation’s lead vocalist Harrison Stafford. It’s nervous, nasal and vulnerable. Occasionally he also misses a note or two.
When I first heard Nanna I didn’t know what to think. The album has many layers and I had a hard time figuring out whether I liked it or not. But it grew on me and suddenly I couldn’t stop listening to it, even though a song like Rusty Hammer, with its Lion King flute, is a bit silly.
Xavier Rudd might look like a surfing hippie version of Owen Wilson’s character Hansel in Zoolander, but he’s for real and sure can make urgent roots reggae.