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.