Xavier Rudd / Izintaba

Koonyum Sun

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For those who thought the aggressive, squalling rock guitar freakout on Xavier Rudd's brilliant 2009 album, Dark Shades of Blue was too much, 2010's Koonyum Sun may feel more comforting -- even if it is a wholly different animal -- one that has much in common with his earlier, acoustically driven offerings. Recorded with his new band Izintaba featuring the South African rhythm section of bassist Tio Moloantoa and percussionist Andile Nqubezelo, Koonyum Sun is impressive, more organic. The direct role these two players assume in these proceedings is massive: check the dubwise reggae on the opener “Sky to Ground,” and the driving syncopated world funk fusion in “Set Me Free.” These men can also really sing; their vocal harmonies reflect South African jive and Township music. Combined with Rudd's blue-eyed aboriginal melodies and punchy vocal phrasing, the combination is soul stirring. A stellar example is on the sparse, tribal, call-and-response chant on “Reasons We Were Blessed.” Elsewhere, “Love Comes and Goes” features Rudd playing his acoustic Weissenborn slide and singing solo. While the music in this track reflects his previous efforts, the lyrics are so nakedly confessional they hurt in uncharacteristic fashion. (It’s a brave move indeed that Rudd has chosen this track as its first single.) The skittering snare skeins of Nqubezelo’s double-timing drum work add a moody vibe to the tune; but it sounds like quiet thunder as Rudd moans and a downtuned bassline rumbles through bridging the dialogues. “Time to Smile” is gorgeous for its polyrhythms, with carefully chosen electric guitar fills located between Moloantoa’s bubbling bassline and Rudd's strummed Weissenborn. Again the syncopated double-time drums and Izintaba’s amazing backing vocals offer resurrection and rebirth in the midst of life-changing turmoil, and support Rudd’s vocal mightily. Ultimately, Koonyum Sun is the most personal record he has ever cut; its lyrics are vulnerable -- even as they reflect a sinewy spirit -- check “Woman Dreaming,” a paean to forgiveness and acceptance, even if it feels like its "whistling past the graveyard." “Badimo” closes the set with an intro that sounds like it comes from the aboriginal "dreamtime": didgeridoos, cymbals, and antiquated folk songs are woven into its modern fabric. It reflects a return to the foundation in order to heal so as to climb the mountain again. The album is solid; it feels more like a band recording than a solo offering; and though it's a step forward musically, it should resonate with new listeners while, at the same time, its tether to familiarity will encourage older fans.

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