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Music  |  Reviews

The Nightwatchman: World Wide Rebel Songs

August 30, 2011  |  12:50pm
The Nightwatchman: <i>World Wide Rebel Songs</i>

Tom Morello has always been defined by social consciousness, but when he rasps, “I’ll whisper words of freedom, I’ll swing hard as I can/ Save the hammer for the man,” his conviction sizzles. Joined by Ben Harper’s sweet baritone on “Save The Hammer,” there is a co-mingling of cultures, people coming together in the name of recognition. World Wide Rebel Songs, Morello’s third as The Nightwatchman, sees the acoustic protest singer plugging in, turning up and inviting the combustive Freedom Fighter Orchestra to join him for these dozen fist-pumping calls-to-action.

What emerges is Pete Seeger on steroids. The triumph and the stridency of tracks like “Union Town,” which closes WWRS and anchors his pro-labor EP of the same title, remind listeners that people have the power but must access their dignity and intellect to manifest its best outcomes.

Change, Morello realizes, doesn’t ignite from rhetoric—or think tanks. It is about sparking passion, capturing people’s focus. For him, his greatest weapon is his guitar—the project opening’s “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine”—and his songs.

Indeed, the acoustic guitar slashings and impassioned harmonica blasts that open WWRS suggest an insurgency of not just people, but ideas. What we know will tumble into an abyss of what can be. Charging, yes, but also stark—and at times sobering.

“The Dogs of Tijuana,” which follows “Black Spartacus.” Is a mongrel’s rallying cry. Horrible images of the cast-aside, tortured, tormented are now on the verge of being avenged. Avenge, not revenge—for Morello’s ethos is about creating a world that is fair to all, not exploiting the weak, the uneducated and the fringe dwellers for the greed of a few.

That stridency takes on jet packs for “It Begins Tonight,” a unifying moment that explodes with anticipation, while “The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse” offers a propulsive, percussive assessment of who he is, what he sees and what’s going to happen next. Clear-eyed yet harrowing, this shoots rebellion’s thrust in the rock ‘n’ roll sense into the politics of how people are being forced to live.

A personal manifesto, WWRS falls somewhere between the Pogues at their most urgent and Tom Joad-era Springsteen at his most feverish. Morello merges the high punk force of Rage Against the Machine with a Polaroid poetry that suggests vintage war correspondency. Whether calling out African exploitation on “Facing Mount Kenya,” a core sample of the current war “The Whirlwind” and “Stray Bullets” or the psychotic meltdown “Branding Iron,” the songs are visceral, potent, raw.

Everything a revolution should be.

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