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The Lowdown:

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

Based In:
Los Angeles, CA



World Wide Rebel Songs

Release Date:
August 30, 2011

New West Records

Previous Releases:
One Man Revolution (2007), The Fabled City (2008), Union Song (EP, 2011)

Americana, folk, folk rock


Related Articles:

Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman - World Wide Rebel Songs album art

Rating: 8 out of 10



August 31, 2011


Tom Morello - The Nightwatchman: World Wide Rebel Songs

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Tom Morello, The Nightwatchman, models the latest in revolutionary battle style. Note the lack of logos. I wonder if he could get Abercrombie & Fitch to pay him not to wear their clothes. Seems like a good gig if you can get it. Photo by Sean Ricigliano.

Since inventing the alter ego of the Nightwatchman in 2003 as an outlet for his folkier side, Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello has generally used the project to focus on acoustic music very different from his usual faire. With his new album World Wide Rebel Songs, however, he is backed by a full electric band. Coming hard on the heels of the July-released Union Town EP, this album continues Morello’s characteristic revolutionary fervor while making a significant musical departure from that work, which included several Morello originals but focused squarely on reimagining old-school revolutionary and union songs such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On?” World Wide Rebel Songs is harsher in both its themes and its music, often advocating outright revolution and packed with fiery music that blends previous Nightwatchman work with Morello’s more well-known rock background. It is still clearly recognizable as folk-rock, but it takes the genre in a new direction. Through much of the album, it is folk-hard-rock.

“I wanted to capture a vibe midway between Johnny Cash and Che Guevara, murder ballads and Molotov anthems,” Morello says of the new work. The album clearly vacillates between these influences, but the Nightwatchman clearly delivered.

The album’s first single “Save the Hammer for the Man” was co-written by Ben Harper, who joins in on the track. Harper’s soulful vocals act as a counterweight to Morello’s deeper tones. Grounded by a set of organ chords beneath an electric power-ballad overlay, the song has the feel of a Civil Rights Movement-era R&B anthem, and its main theme seems to be uniting the downtrodden against their oppressors. The hammer has dual metaphorical meanings. First, there’s the John Henry theme of a workman’s tool, the blood and sweat that confederates the common man. Then, of course, there’s the old Seeger/Hays image of the means used to destroy the status quo, this time given a slightly more violent edge as the price of the redemption it brings costs “the blood of generals and kings”:

I was driven from the city.
In the wilderness I stand.
In the cleansing rain and silence
I made my battle plan.

And I will whisper words of freedom.
I will swing hard as I can.
Lord knows the time is comin’.
Save the hammer for the man.

The first track, “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine,” leads the album off with a powerful call to arms. After a thumping drum introduction with a screaming harmonica, Morello’s near-spoken-word vocals take over. The highly charged chorus is a repetition of the title backed by hard-struck but muted guitar chords and interlaced with thundering full-band sound. The harmonica returns as the song builds to a frenetic climax, and the whole thing ends with a “whoa whoaing” vocal chorus and Morello shouting the “Black Spartacus heart attack machine” line a few last times, just for good measure. Thematically, this song leans much more towards Che than J.C., with its lyrics paving the way for a new American revolution. The crest of the song is perhaps the clearest example, as Morello says:

Me and my people are hungry.
Me and my people are through.
Me and my people are ready.
Me and my people are just about due.

I’m a massive airstrike on a beautiful night.
Yeah it’s my song I’m singin’.
Somebody better start countin’.
We’re coming out. We’re coming out swingin’.

A fast-paced song with a chanted chorus, “Stray Bullets” is a politically charged murder ballad, and in some ways the most striking of all of the songs on the album. It tells the story of a group of men sent to fight in Iraq who become disillusioned and decide to go on their own mission of revenge:

‘'Cause now we’re comin’ for the captain
To reap the seeds he’s sown.
Everybody hit the deck
‘Cause his tent’s about to blow.

Tell the general when we find him
That he’ll be the next to go.
Yeah, we’re comin’ for the captain
And then we’re goin’ home.

Whoa-oa-oa a-yea, I’ll sail away.
Whoa-oa-oa a-yea, slide on down.
Whoa-oa-oa a-yea, what is lost you gave away.
Stray bullets rainin’ on down down down.

Stray bullets rainin’ on down.

The title track “World Wide Rebel Songs” has an upbeat, happy feel despite its relatively heavy lyrical themes about going to battle against the “tyrants, bloodsuckers and bagmen.” It almost seems like a 70’s party anthem, even as it takes the listener on a global tour of the slums and ghettoes and forgotten places readying themselves to explode. The call to arms becomes even more explicit as the song reaches its end:

I was born here and I’ll die here.
You can’t drive me away.
Freedom’s train has left the station
And it’s pullin’ in today.

We won’t be comin’ home tonight love;
The fight has just begun.
Raise your voices all together.
Motherfucker, here we come.

World wide rebel songs.
Sing out loud all night long.
Hang on, man, it won’t be long.
World wide rebel songs.

All this and a pretty damn cool harmonica solo.

“Speak and Make Lightning” has the feel of an old-time tent revival song with a fast, danceable pace, call and response format, and biblical-sounding language. The Nightwatchman’s sermon wouldn’t fit well in any but the most apocalyptic of churches, however, as he preaches a pretty confrontational philosophy:

Oh. He's actually wearing one of his own t-shirts. That's a little awkward. I'm not sure revolutionaries are supposed to sell t-shirts. Well, at least he's got the Guthrie-style hand graffito on his guitar. Photo by Sean Ricigliano.

Speak and make lightnin’
And it will pass.
Speak and make lightnin’
And I will stand fast.

In the attic there’s an old Gatling gun.
Speak and make lightnin’, friend, and it will come.

The one musical element that doesn’t fit the meme is the screeching guitar solo, which towards the end of the song rises up in a fury to overtake the choir and proclaim its fiery supremacy.

“It Begins Tonight” thunders just like a Rage Against the Machine song, with Morello’s distinctive guitar leading the way, featured in a rather raging solo. If it weren’t for the sung rather than chanted “O Lord, o Lord, it begins tonight” chorus it would fit right in with his earlier band’s work. At the other end of the spectrum, “The Dogs of Tijuana” seems to owe a lot to Cash, both musically—despite (or even because of) its south-of-the-border flair—and thematically—as a classic ballad of the oppressed. It starts with an acoustic guitar but soon explodes into a powerful, fast-paced electric cooker. The album also includes as a bonus track the song “Union Town,” off of the recently released EP of the same name. To read about that song, please see the No Surf Review of Union Town here.

World Wide Rebel Songs is another strong work coming from the Nightwatchman. Despite the electrified turn taken in the music, it fits in perfectly with his earlier catalogue. Anyone who is a fan of revolutionary music or Morello himself will be more than pleased with it, and even those who have lived in a cave for twenty years and aren’t familiar with his prescient writing and powerful guitar work should take the time to explore this album. In these troubled times, when it seems more and more that the common man is being smashed against the wheel of corporate greed and government malfeasance, it is a strong call to action that shouldn’t be ignored by anyone. World Wide Rebel Songs may not start a revolution, but it sure as hell will get you thinking, and that’s always the first step toward freedom.


Buy World Wide Rebel Songs on Amazon!
mp3 cd vinyl


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