Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs

World Wide Rebel Songs - Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman - 2011

This third album from Tom Morello as his folksy singing and strumming persona, The Nightwatchman, furthers his credibility as a stellar solo musician. Coincidence that the release of World Wide Rebel Songs comes following the Arab Spring and right before Occupy protests were being established? I think not. Both Morello and his music energetically rally behind the cause of social justice. During Wisconsin's uproar about collective bargaining, Morello played "Uniontown", a bonus track for the digital download of this album, in support of the ocean of protesters at the foot Madison's city hall.

For this album, Morello has evolved/devolved away from The Nightwatchman's acoustic only approach. When asked why he plugged back in he responded, "I figured I can play guitar like that, so I should." Right on. In most cases as The Nightwatchman, I prefer his acoustic material (this preference in no way applies to his guitar as a WMD playing in Rage.) His acoustic style seems less showy and lends itself to a genuine and natural sounding story-telling. The Woody Guthrie-esque sound is honest from the tip of Tom's commie baseball cap to the soles of his union made boots. Tom's voice has a medium rasp that travels neatly between Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Sure, he's not the vocal talent that those two are, but when he starts to wail on his electric guitar you won't give a rat's behind. "The Dogs of Tijuana" and "The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse" are heartfelt unplugged songs. Guitar riffs in "It Begins Tonight" are loud, heavy, and alive, yet are totally in sync with the rest of the work on the record. Tom has that rare gift that he can meld the two disparate styles and still convey such powerful material. Star tracks here are the harmonica heavy, call and response "Speak and Make Lightning", "Stray Bullets", and the passionate war cry lament "Save the Hammer for the Man", featuring Ben Harper.

Mr. Morello puts on an awe inspiring performance. The VVers have seen him a few times over the past few years in various sized venues, but most recently touring on this album at the oddball, sit-down Birchmere back in September. The very first time we saw The Nightwatchman perform, we had a sing along to "This Land is Your Land". This time around he invited everyone (yes, everyone) to join his band on stage and sing "World Wide Rebel Songs". Pretty sweet! What's more is that he called out everyone trying to record the performance on their smart phone to put them away and designated ONE person from the audience to record the clip and post it on Youtube for all to view. Respect. During the show he told a lead-in story for each song, be it funny or serious. He told us that the song "Black Spartacus" is about his guitar by the same name, and was inspired by Mick Jones from the Clash who called his guitar a "heart attack machine". It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who names inanimate objects...

Speaking of inanimate objects - the record itself is super dense and feels like it is the weight of a small puppy. This thing is so thick and strangely the edges are squared off instead of tapered. It resembles a small tire.

One suggestion Tom - bring vinyl to your shows to sell! How dare you only have CDs? Luckily Ka-Chunk!! Records in Annapolis happened to have this record waiting to be snatched up.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Telephantasm

The Telephantasm - Soundgarden 2010 (recorded in 1987)

Record Store Day 2010 this VVer was busy doing something important or some such (probably working) and so the other VVer was very nice and went to the neighborhood CD/Game Exchange to pick up this oddball 7", limited press of only 4,000 worldwide. So of course I'm feeling great about all of this.

Listening to The Telephantasm is another story entirely. It is not really a proper song, but an instrumental. As a single I've got to wonder, umm, do they know what a single is? Telephantasm is a giant riff (with some moaning from Chris Cornell) track by axe master Kim Thayil. Thayil has always been reliable for laying down the heaviest of guitar riffs; notable for their stellar sludge hammering. Sludge hammering? Wha? Anyways, I think the guy is basically a guitar demon. Listening to Telephantasm we get that riff. THE UBER RIFF! And it keeps coming over and over. Pretty much non-stop. The track has a sort of mantra chant of the guitar monk thing going on. Here comes the pulsing giant riff in overdrive! It has been a real journey to wrap my head around this track. I've listened to it many times over (not all at once mind you - doing so would likely cause some sort of convulsive drooling fit.). Telephantasm has been a furiously confounding listen. At just under three minutes it is over and done with almost too quickly. Pounding riff, devastating drums, weird moaning and atmospherics. It is an odd thing indeed. Loudness and a few cocktails help exponentially.

I haven't been able to track down anything close to a review of this track. Just a tiny snippet about the production. Apparently whilst preparing to put out a comprehensive best of collection (also named after this, the oddest of odd tracks; another strange decision) they found this outtake from their very first record; the amazing Screaming Life. With a little studio hodge podgery, mixer Adam Kaspar was able to polish it enough to put out into the world. But why as a single? Isn't that what Black Rain was supposed to be? Most peculiar thing about the Telephantasm single is sandwiching it with an unreleased live version of GUN; a song from two albums later; the spectacular Louder than Love. Why put these two together? How about a version of Heretic or Nothing to Say, you know, at least something from the same time period as Screaming Life?

It seems there is little to be gained and I would say a lot to be lost with a goofy ass single like this. It kind of turned me off for a while. Is this a joke? Who was high that day? Who sobered up? Ultimately it makes me really question what kind of reunion album the guys in Soundgarden are working on. Telephantasm, while interesting in its peculiarness, does not bode well for the future.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011- A Year in Vinyl Music

Best New Vinyl: Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
For sheer kitchen sink bravado this record is the clear winner of the year. Strong in every category, plus great packaging and cool freebies. The only bad thing was having to wait to get our greasy mitts on it. Full review here.
Honorable Mentions:
Crocodiles - Summer of Hate
Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
Tom Morello the Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs

Best Used Vinyl: Big Brother and the Holding Company - Cheap Thrills
What really sets this record apart from the pack (and it was a pretty large pack this year!) is a hard to describe quality that is very rare in records these days. I'd call it the wow factor. On every song it sounds like every facet of the music is just going full thunder. Positive and soulful with a realness that is unmatched. Nice that a record that is as famous as this earns every touch of praise it has garnered over the nearly 50 years since its release. Full review here.
Honorable Mentions:
Kurtis Blow - Party Time?
Devo - New Traditionalists
Queen - Queen II
Peter Tosh - Mystic Man

Best 45: Rage Against the Machine - The Ghost of Tom Joad
No contest, this record was found almost by accident at the Idle Times Bookstore in Adams Morgan. We didn't even know they sold vinyl at all! Frankly, the VVers rarely go out of the way to find 45s, but this one was just sitting by the counter in glorious translucent purple vinyl. We'd only just recently seen Tom Morello, the Nightwatchman, perform this Bruce Springsteen cut as a faithful to the original cover. These two versions couldn't be more different. In this case the RATM assault version is superior. Why? Well, for one Tom Morello's atomic riffage will quickly incinerate any doubts. Did that guy learn to play guitar on Mars or what? Two, the earnest vocals from Zack De La Rocha give a different kind of snarling urgency to the tune that neither Tom nor Bruce can match. Awesome woodcut artwork adorns this beauty; the 45 cover art is even bigger than a CD cover. Vinyl wins again!
Honorable Mentions:
Beastie Boys - Pop Your Balloon
Dum Dum Girls - Coming Down
(Both were freebies that came with the full album releases. Both on white vinyl. Classy!)

Best Concert (yes, it's not vinyl, but it is a big part of our musical lives): See-I @ U Street Music Hall
This show was incredible! Featuring the local reggae luminaries in all their glory. The VVers had seen See-I as side men for Thievery Corporation on multiple occasions and were extremely excited about the chance to see the duo command an entire show. The Jamaican rhyme splitters dominated the venue and had everyone dancing from the moment they took stage. Ironically, this is the only band listed here that we have no vinyl by . . . get it together See-I.
Honorable Mentions:
Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman @ the Birchmere
Patti Smith @ Merriweather Post Pavilion, Virgin FreeFest
Devo @ the State Theater
Sleigh Bells @ 9:30 Club

Best plan to deal with all the crappy vinyl we went out on a lark to try out: Turn them into bowls to use as centerpieces at our wedding.

Hope everyone had a quality musical 2011. 2012 is already off to a good start. The year kicks off with the VVers heading out into the world to acquire new and expanded shelving for all these records that seem to be multiplying exponentially. Expect upcoming reviews of DEVO, Queen, and yes . . . more Kurtis Blow.