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Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman - The Fabled City
not always paved in gold
Review by Tony BonyataIt'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.
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