As stereotypes go, a surfer with something worthwhile to say is a contradiction in terms, but Xavier Rudd is no cookie-cutter mold, but a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist with simple, yet profound, thoughts on life to impart.
Rudd opens Food in the Belly by taking stock of himself on "The Letter," a song bookended by the highly contemplative and autobiographical "September 24, 1999." Both lay the groundwork for his life-affirming philosophy that revolves around our connections to this wonderful planet, a theme explored on "Energy" and the paean to "The Mother" Earth, and reflected in the ecologically minded "Messages." In nature one can find a tranquility of soul that permeates this entire set, but that doesn't mean that the terrible disturbances of war and disease don't inevitably impinge. Rudd addresses both on "Pockets of Peace," as well as the hunger that inflects so many on "Famine," a song at least partially inspired by Jimmy Cliff's "Sufferin' on the Land."
Yet even these horrors can't overcome Rudd's overwhelming optimism, prominent on "Connie's Song" and the hope-filled "Generation Fade," while counseling us all to be grateful for what we have on the title track. Counterpointing the upbeat messages is the music, often in a decidedly bluesy vein. An accomplished finger-picker and percussionist, and an evocative slide banjo player, Rudd also brings in guest musicians to fill out the sound, incorporating an array of other instruments and even a children's chorus into his music.
The instrumental "Mana," for instance, is powered by tablas and a didgeridoo, "Famine" features a slide banjo and a reggae rhythm, while "Peace" slides from surf to psychedelia and "The Mother" delves into a deep funk groove. This may push Food in the Belly into the world music category, although the set doesn't have that kind of feel at all, as virtually all the tracks are built around Rudd's guitars.
A fabulous album with much to offer musically, spiritually and thematically, this is one surfer dude who found his true calling on and beyond the waves.