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Morello's Fabled City
not always paved in gold

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - The Fabled City
(Red Music)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 21, 2008
Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman

Review by Tony Bonyata

It's quite a feat to transform yourself from one of the most volatile and talented modern metal guitarists to that of a socio-political acoustic folkie, but that's exactly what Tom Morello - guitarist of both Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave - has done on his second effort, The Fabled City, under the moniker of The Nightwatchman.

While Rage Against The Machine's frontman and lyricist Zach de la Rocha's politics were soaked in revolution and gasoline, Morello instead delivers his messages in a storytelling narrative style - more as a strongly opinionated bystander ready to share his side of the story rather than lead an angry street-mob with pipebombs into battle.

Unlike his first Nightwatchman effort, One Man Revolution, where Morello delivered his stark and stripped-down, left-leaning folk songs with little more than vocals and guitar, on The Fabled City the arrangements are much more fleshed-out and fully realized. This was no doubt due to not only producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) helming the boards, but also the inclusion of some famous musician friends helping out, such as System Of A Down's Serj Tankian adding vocals on the dark folk ballad "Lazarus on Down," country singer Shooter Jennings on the proud "The Iron Wheel" and even Jane's Addiction and Lollapalooza festival founder Perry Farrell singing on the iTunes-only bonus track "Shake My S**t."

But even with a little help from his friends, The Fabled City isn't always paved with gold. Many of the lyrics come off heavy-handed, mixing religious diatribe ("The King of Hell") with early Dylan-esque cut-up patter. And while Morello's husky baritone vocal delivery is at times reminiscent of Nick Cave, mid-'70s Iggy Pop and Leonard Cohen, his extremely limited range fails to make the most out of some of the more promising numbers, such as "The Lights Are On In Spidertown" and "Gone Like Rain." Luckily he invited a pint-hoisting, harmonizing choir to help drive the chorus on the Irish-flavored "Saint Isabelle" and the overall energy of the album's most rocking, and perhaps strongest composition "Whatever It Takes" hearkens back to Nick Cave's early days with The Bad Seeds.

While the results may be mixed on his Nightwatchman project, Morello must still be given his due - if only because he's continuing to challenge his own artistic parameters.

Related articles:

Lollapalooza 2008 (Rage Against the Machine) - Festival review - Chicago, IL - Aug. 2008
Voodoo Music Experience 2007 - Festival review - New Orleans, LA - Oct. 2007
Rage Against the Machine - Concert review - East Troy, WI - Aug. 2007
Audioslave / Seether / 30 Seconds to Mars - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Nov. 2005
Lollapalooza 2003 (Audioslave) - Festival review - Milwaukee, WI - July 2003
The Top 10 Most Influential Rock Artists of All Time
Audioslave - Audioslave CD review
Rage Against the Machine - The Battle of Los Angeles CD review
Tibetan Freedom Concert - Festival review - East Troy, WI - June 1999

Watch WSJ Cafe: Tom Morello, "The Fabled City"

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