David Rudder

The Autobiography of the Now

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Historically, the calypso/soca tradition David Rudder draws on was known in Trinidad as "the people's newspaper." He's always used his songs to chronicle and comment on events affecting his life, and Trinidad as a whole, so The Autobiography of the Now really could be the title of any of his discs. The opening "Séance (The Circle Is Unbroken)" is a continuation of the last song from his 2000 release, Zero, with different lyrics, so he's pretty serious about the continuity of his songwriting. The best songs here are about Trinidad -- the vigorous rhythms and great chorus hook on "The Power of the Song" pay tribute to the legendary Lord Kitchener and "I'd Rather Be in Trinidad" is a pure home-culture celebration. "Bigger Pimpin'" criticizes rapper Jay-Z for coming to Trinidad and copping the musical feel, the latest Yankee invader in a line dating back to "Rum & Coca-Cola" in the '40s. Rudder drops into patois there, but "Requiem for Miss D" aims for metaphors that are too abstract to make sense to anyone outside of Trinidad. Rudder can get too mawkishly sentimental or too sloganeering for his own good with cloying, grandiose arrangements to match. It happens on "Jerusalem," a plea for brotherhood in the holy land that sounds inspired less by first-hand traveling than channel-surfing via CNN. Surprisingly, it affects "Havana," too -- even though the music gets a chance to shift between soca and Cuban clave, the lyrics are surprisingly trite for a country so close to Rudder's Caribbean home base. But he taps into fundamental human outrage with "Forty-One Bullets," a look at the New York City shooting death of Amadou Diallo, even down to citing Woody Guthrie. Rudder is such a consistent craftsmen and sharp-eyed observer ("My little brothers are wearing their anger/Just like the latest designer gear") that there's always something of value in his discs. But this chapter of his Autobiography of the Now won't rank among the finest.

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