Thursday, July 02, 2009

Tom Morello Album Reviews

I'm a big Rage Against the Machine guy. I saw them in concert 3 or 4 times in their heyday and they were incredible. Anybody that knows my politics knows that I would like Rage for that aspect also.

When they broke up about 10 years ago, I was greatly disappointed and really missed having rock music with a message. System of a Down's albums and Green Day's American Idiot were certainly worthy efforts in that realm and I enjoy them immensely. But I still wish Rage was around. They'll reunite occasionally to play a festival but they have no intentions of a tour or any albums. All the players have moved on. The band minus singer Zack De la Rocha formed Audioslave with Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, a band that was fairly successful commercially but was not political at all.

Guitarist Tom Morello has a long history of political activism has a BA with honors in Government from Harvard University. His father was the first Kenyan ambassador to the UN and his mother was a civil rights activist. He hadn't given up his long held political beliefs when he was in Audioslave. He just channeled them in another direction, his one man folk band, the Nightwatchman.

While still recording as Nightwatchman, Morello has just formed the band, Street Sweeper Social Club, with Boot Riley of the political rap group the Coup. I had previously reviewed them in concert, when they opened for Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction.

In the last couple of weeks, I picked up the debut albums by both of Morello's current bands. First up, Nightwatchman's One Man Revolution. This is bare bones, acoustic guitar playing. It reminds me a lot of Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad, which is not coincidental as Morello himself said he was inspired by Springsteen and Dylan. I sense a lot of inspiration from Pete Seeger in the subject matter, the poor and the downtrodden. The song highlights fro me are "Until the End" and "The Road I Must Travel". I'm really on a folk kick lately and have been listening to a lot of Woody Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan and Nightwatchman. Great stuff.

He's not a great singer, I grant you that. More of a "vocal stylist", like Leonard Cohen. That's what you call people that can't sing. I kid. I'm just saying that his voice is not the point. The words are. I like this album a lot and will be getting Nightwatchman's other album.

Morello's other band, Street Sweeper Social Club, just released their debut album. I like Street Sweeper well enough, but it does seem like it's trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Rage was one of those right-place, right-time, right people kind of things. Street Sweeper seems to be trying to reproduce that. Morello's Nightwatchman seems much more real to me. It's just him, his guitar and his beliefs.

I do appreciate the electric guitar playing of Morello on this album, but the political message just doesn't seem to have the same resonance of Rage or Nightwatchman. While Rage's lyrics could rightly be considered to have been delivered in a rap style, Street Sweeper removes any pretense. Having rapper Boots Riley as your singer will do that. When I first heard Rage, I wasn't sure if I liked de la Rocha's voice, but looking back, I prefer it to Boots Riley. It just seems much more appropriate for the anger and message of the songs. Street Sweeper sounds more like a funk party where you happen to be singing about politics. Rage was more like a bulldozer.

Speaking of Morello and Springsteen, check out this electric version of Ghost of Tom Joad by the two of them. It has an incredible solo by Morello:

No comments: