Category: Tom Morello

Album review: The Nightwatchman's 'World Wide Rebel Songs'

Album review: The Nightwatchman's 'World Wide Rebel Songs'

Wielding his guitar like a genre-vaporizing blowtorch, Tom Morello remains one of rock’s most distinctive instrumentalists: His iconoclastic virtuosity brings a defining character to all his projects, from the revolutionary rap-rock of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave’s post-grunge to the live-band hip-hop of Street Sweeper Social Club. Morello’s solo persona, the Nightwatchman, stands apart from his other efforts, though -- placing him front and center as the singer, in addition to using folk as the musical bedrock in lieu of the innovative metallic crunch for which he’s famed. However, while “World Wide Rebel Songs -- his third full-length under the Nightwatchman moniker -- reflects Morello’s expected radical social consciousness in its lyrics, it also evocatively expands on his sonic fingerprint.

Where previous Nightwatchman releases primarily featured Morello as an acoustic troubadour, his latest proffers more group interplay, at times recalling aspects of his other projects. “It Begins Tonight” bisects shamelessly heavy riffing with Bo Diddley beats, while “Union Town” hybridizes Morello’s trademark turntablist-influenced shredding with a chorus ready-made for protest marches; “Facing Mount Kenya,” meanwhile, balances personal introspection and political insight with sparse, atmospheric trip-hop. Surprisingly, the most appealing element here proves to be Morello’s voice -- a weary, Leonard Cohen-esque rasp that makes all the sloganeering seem oddly soothing. That human element is what makes “World Wide Rebel Songs” compelling, and ultimately cathartic: What Morello lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in visceral feeling.

Continue reading »

Tom Morello lets pro-labor flag fly in new 'Union Town' EP

Tom Morello 2011 Sean RiciglianoThere’s nothing like a big political rally to get the creative juices flowing for a politically progressive rocker. That’s just what happened after guitarist, singer and songwriter Tom Morello took part in demonstrations at the state capitol in Madison, Wis., recently to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to strip the state’s public workers of the ability to engage in collective bargaining.

The results can be heard imminently in Morello’s new eight-song EP, “Union Town,” a collection the Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave/The Nightwatchman musician summarizes as “fighting songs.” The title tune will be available Thursday as a free download at The EP will be released in digital form on May 17 and on CD and vinyl on July 19 under Morello's new deal with New West Records. Proceeds from sale of the album will go to the America Votes Labor Unity Fund.

“I was so inspired by what I saw in Madison,” Morello told Pop & Hiss this week. “It seems very much like we're at an important crossroad, and that this movmvent was not just about stopping some bad legislation, but possibly harnessing the energy of 100,000 to 150,000 people who were in the streets and want to put some teeth back in the labor movement in the U.S.”

Morello is an unapologetic labor supporter, citing both his own two decade-plus membership in Musicians' Union Local 47 in Los Angeles and that of his mother, a public school teacher and active member of the teachers union.

Morello returned from the February rally in Madison and wrote “Union Town” and two other originals -- “A Wall Against the Wind” and “Which Side Are You On?” -- and recorded the whole thing over a period of just four days. Among the other songs on the EP are his renditions of the Merle Travis-Tennessee Ernie Ford country coal-mining anthem “16 Tons,” Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” the folk standard  “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” and a rally-ready chant titled “Solidarity Forever” that borrows the melody of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

In his version of “This Land Is Your Land,” Morello turns the tables on tradition, ignoring the first couple of verses of the song that are typically taught in elementary school and focusing instead on the politically charged latter verses usually ignored in the public arena.

“That’s a conscious choice,” he said. “Ninety-nine times out of 100, in the third-grade classroom or sung at a ballgame, they exclude the class-warfare verses. What this song is really about is which side are you on?”

Continue reading »

Tom Morello to release new Nightwatchman solo album in summer

Tom Morello 2009-Ken Hively LAT 
Rage Against the Machine guitarist-songwriter Tom Morello will release his third solo album using the moniker the Nightwatchman, "World Wide Rebel Songs,” in late summer under a new record deal he has signed with New West Records.

Morello signed with New West because “Their commitment to their artists is inspiring and I'm looking forward to fanning the flames of discontent with many Nightwatchman releases under their banner,"  he said in a statement announcing the signing and the album information.

Continue reading »

Outernational, Tom Morello cover 'Deportees' to protest Arizona immigration law

Politically charged New York rock group Outernational has enlisted Tom Morello for a new recording of Woody Guthrie’s poignant immigration ballad “Deportees” that the band is making available as a free download in response to Arizona’s recent law targeting illegal immigrants.

The group has put out the song, arranged as a accordion-driven waltz, ahead of a planned protest against the law in Arizona on Saturday, which band members say they will attend.

“We recorded 'Deportees' with Tom Morello and are going down to Arizona on May 29th to stand with all the people courageously fighting back against these unjust and immoral laws,” Outernational’s Miles Solay said in a statement issued this week. “Outernational is about a whole new world, a world without borders and nations. Todos somos illegales. We are all illegals.”

Morello, long known for his own politically provocative music with Rage Against the Machine and the Nightwatchman, said, “Prejudice and ignorance are at the core of Arizona's recent immigration legislation and Woody Guthrie's ‘Deportees’ was written to combat just that sort of prejudice."

Guthrie wrote the song following a 1948 plane crash near Los Gatos Canyon in Central California, killing 28 Mexican migrant workers and four Americans. The New York Times report of the crash listed the names of the three flight crew members and a security guard, but referred to the Mexican workers only as “deportees."

It was originally popularized by Guthrie’s friend Pete Seeger and subsequently covered by numerous artists including Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Guthrie’s son Arlo and Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen, the Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton and the Byrds.

Outernational featuring Tom Morello - "Deportee" [MP3]

--Randy Lewis

Coachella 2010: Street Sweeper Social Club covers M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" in the late afternoon


The Street Sweeper Social Club's cover of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" contains multitudes. When guitarist Tom Morello tossed off the opening riff of the song, a sample of the Clash's "Straight to Hell," it was unclear where the song was headed. Would it go to Joe Strummer's "If you can play on the fiddle" line? Or would it land on MIA's "I fly like paper get high like planes"? It was the latter, and SSSC, the rap rock super group featuring Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, and the Coup's incendiary lead singer, Boots Riley, tore into the song. Morello rode that menacing Clash riff while Riley rapped Maya Arulpragasam's words. As the song moved to the expert shotgun-cracks in the chorus, the guitarist moved his instrument like a weapon, blowing out into the audience.

The Social Club proved something important: that rap and rock, such a treacherous pairing given its history of appealing to the testosterone-heavy, shirtless frat-dudes, can be strong and beautiful, smart and angry. The band drew from the hard funk of Living Color, the rolling funk of Funkadelic, the rhythmic funk of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the angular riffage of the Minutemen, the global fury of M.I.A. and, well, Tom Morello. It was potent, vital, and incredibly powerful.

- Randall Roberts

Photo: Boots Riley, left, and Tom Morello of Street Sweeper Social Club performed on the main stage on Friday, the opening day of the three-day Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival on the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio, Calif. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Serj Tankian on his upcoming 'Imperfect Harmonies': 'There's a lot of heartbreak on this record'


Discussing his upcoming solo album, former System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian drops an unexpected word: "Edit." Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, Tankian speaks about his music with a professorial ease. It's a long way removed from his on-stage and in-the-studio persona, where hard rock is simply the basis for an excuse to take a multitude of left turns, explore orchestral fits and jolt the listener with sometimes frantic changes of pace. 

"Before I would always build, build, build, build, and then be done," Tankian said Wednesday afternoon from his Sherman Oaks studio. "Now, I build in parts. I built the orchestra. I built the electronics. I built the live instrumentation. Then I went back and took things out. It was the first time I threw everything against the wall and then started taking things out."

But if such pruning was the case, it wasn't readily evident in the three songs Tankian previewed from his upcoming solo effort, "Imperfect Harmonies," tentatively tabled for a September release. After announcing that he was halfway through the mixing process for the 11-track album, Tankian unveiled the first finished cut, "Corporatacy."

The title will change, Tankian said, but the near-industrial electronic stomp that opens the song is likely cemented in place. More theatrical than purely aggressive, the song, like much of System of a Down's signature work, soon spins seemingly out of control. Nine Inch Nails-like keyboards drop out, and the verses twist into a jazz-like free-for-all, at least until the guitars arrive in the chorus to remind the listener that Tankian was, indeed, the leader of one of recent history's most successful metal bands.

"I felt so alone until you came in my life stopped the pain," Tankian sings in an unexpectedly quiet bridge. But the earnestness doesn't last, as the lyrics go from love to anger to heartache in moments, capturing the full range of a dead-end relationship in a span of 20 seconds. Or maybe not. "God speaks different in every language," Tankian repeats as the song comes to a close.

Tankian displays a more vulnerable side in another one of the new tracks, "Beat Us," in which guitars meld with electronics until it becomes impossible to tell which instrument is which. An ornate arrangement carries the song, as if a guitar is being used to mimic a harp, and the song builds to a rather playful, give-and-take chorus with local singer Shana Halligan.

"I always mix the personal, the political, the humorous and the philosophical," Tankian said. "Those are the four different quadrants of what I do lyrically, and it’s no different here. But there is more urgency when it comes to the ‘why are we here and what’s going on?’ There’s also a different intimacy to the personal. ‘Beat Us’ was very personal. It’s a loving, heartbreak song. There’s a lot of heartbreak on this record."

Continue reading »

Album review: Tom Morello and Boots Riley's Street Sweeper Social Club

Street_sweeper_social_240__ Just last month, some critics questioned the continued relevancy of the fairly mild political discontent expressed on Green Day's latest album, “21st Century Breakdown.” Well, Billie Joe Armstrong can breathe easy now. There's a new explosives unit in town, and this one is radical enough to really reap the scorn of those who think there's no more room for protest in rock.

Guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and rapper Boots Riley of the Oakland crew the Coup are longtime comrades in pop's committed left wing. Now, along with Stanton Moore, the scrappy drummer from jazz-funk outfit Galactic, they've excavated the sunken ship of rap-rock as a vehicle for revolutionary jams. For Morello, who helped create this bomb-dropping approach, the sound of Street Sweeper Social Club is well-loved home ground. For Riley, it's a step toward a different audience, beyond the loyal cult that's long appreciated the Coup's highly explicit polemics.

Marrying firebrand lyrics with massive, pedal-pushing guitar riffs, SSSC (it sounds like a union acronym, doesn't it?) revels in the kinds of big, earnest gestures that emblematized 1990s alternative rock. It's hardly a new approach to rabble-rousing. But hidden within the band's infectious empire-toppling football chants, Riley wields a sharp little knife.

That weapon is the sense of lived politics that's permeated Riley's work for nearly 20 years. On this album, he's as prone to sloganeering as is Armstrong (or, for that matter, Rage's more oracular Zack de la Rocha). But he never crafts a rally cry without countering it with a sly joke and a poignant detail. 

The downtrodden workers Riley evokes in songs such as "Somewhere in the World It's Midnight" and "The Oath" aren't abstractions. They like their liquor, sweat through the night shift and dream of an uprising partly because if that happens, they might get a day off.

With Riley in front, cracking jokes and getting sweaty, Morello relaxes. His playing is what-the-heck spontaneous, complementing Moore's loose-elbowed drumming. (Morello also played bass on the album; Hollywood mainstay Carl Restivo does so on tour.) 
Continue reading »

Bruce Springsteen returns to Los Angeles with a 'Dream' tour*

It was no accident that on tax-reckoning day, the same day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was holding a forum in downtown L.A. to address the Golden State's buckling economy, Bruce Springsteen put a decidedly California spin on his overarching musical message about holding onto hope even in the face of such hard times.

Springsteen invited local political firebrand Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine/the Nightwatchman fame, to join him on stage Wednesday at the first of two consecutive nights at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for a savage duet on "The Ghost of Tom Joad," the Boss' 1995 Steinbeck-Bruce Springsteen, live in Los Angeles inspired treatise on those who've been let down or forgotten in the promised land:

He pulls a prayer book out of his sleeping bag
Preacher lights up a butt and takes a drag
Waiting for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box 'neath the underpass

He and Morello traded impassioned verses, with E Street Band guitarists "Miami" Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren ceding the spotlight to Morello for a rapid-fire solo that screamed outrage. During the encore segment, Morello returned for a choir-like reading of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More."

Springsteen might have stumped for Barack Obama and played at the White House following his election, but he knows that systemic change doesn't happen overnight and that hope remains a fragile thing in troubled times.

Rifling through his ever-expanding songbook, he stitched together a set focused less on promoting his latest album, “Working on a Dream,” than on shoring up hope while acknowledging how much work still needs to be done to fulfill the American dream.

"We're here with a mighty purpose in mind!" the 59-year-old Jerseyite told a sea of cheering onlookers after the first handful of songs. "We're gonna rock the house! But we're not only going to rock the house, we're going to build a house. We're going to take fear and build a house of love; we're going to take sadness and build a house of joy; we're going to take doubt and build a house of faith; we're going to take despair and build a house of hope."

Continue reading »

Tom Morello at the Grammy Museum: Political activism, music biz lessons and what about another Rage album?

Tom_morello_kggdncnc_250 Prior to Tuesday evening, when Tom Morello was last seen on stage in Los Angeles, he was spearheading a benefit for various homeless advocacy groups at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood, performing with the likes of Wayne Krame and Slash. The one-on-one setting Tuesday night at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles was a bit more grown-up than a rock 'n' roll show, but the Rage Against the Machine member stayed on point, and even brought a little unpredictably to the recently opened nonprofit institution.

The Grammy Museum launched with a politics-in-music exhibit titled "Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom," and the discussion, led by the museum's executive director, Robert Santelli, neatly tied in with the theme. With a nod to one of the artist's at the centerpiece of the exhibit, the night closed with Morello, who rose to prominence as one of the alt-rock era's most adventurous guitarists, leading the 200-seat theater through a determined take on Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Disregarding the nervous glances from the small security staff, the suburban Illinois-raised artist instructed the audience stand and jump through the final verse.

Before the rousing finale, however, Santelli led an engagingly thoughtful discussion through Morello's career, focusing largely on the influence of politics and activism. Everything from schoolyard racism to the music business to Morello's thoughts on President Obama were touched on. As Morello pointed out, there's more than one similarity between the artist and our nation's 44th president. In addition to ties to the Chicago area, both were born to a Kenyan father and white mother, and each did time at Harvard in the '80s.

Continue reading »

Tom Morello: Rocker with a conscience

The musical reach of Morello, guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave and now fronting a band called Street Sweeper, is matched only by his political activism.

Tom_morello_kggdncnc_250 Tom Morello is perhaps best known as the guitarist for rock bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, but the politically minded L.A. transplant has recorded as the Nightwatchman and has just created another band, Street Sweeper. His West Coast "Justice Tour," which benefits regional nonprofit PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), stops at the Music Box @ the Fonda on Saturday.

You went to Libertyville High School in the northern  Chicago suburbs. How did you like it?

On the one hand, it was a lovely, bucolic suburb with plenty of grassy fields to run around and play football in. On the other hand, one morning there was a noose in my family's garage. A mixed bag.

That leaves an impression.

It certainly does. And you wonder why the music's loud.

'm impressed with your recession-level ticket prices -- $15! -- of your West Coast tour.

We try to keep the tickets for the "Justice Tour" to the people's price. This tour grew out of shows I hosted at the Hotel Café over the last few years. They're shows that are completely outside of the mainstream of how business is usually done in the music industry. I text the artists on my BlackBerry and ask them to play. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to homeless advocacy. The artists not only perform at the shows but are invited to participate at the homeless shelters as well.

-- Read the full story here.

-- Choire Sicha

(Photo: Tom Morello Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)


Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: