Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Album Review - The Nightwatchman - Union Town EP

This review is part of the "Over Flow" Review Series. For various reasons these past reviews were not published anywhere else. I am tagging them as Overflow Reviews and may add some extra information after if needed but I will keep the ratings and reviews just as I originally wrote them. Enjoy:
 The Nightwatchman
Union Town EP
*** out of *****

For those who don't know by now The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello's alias for his solo venture that see's him raging even more against the machine while delving deeply into left wing politics.  Morello has said that this was a reaction to playing in Audioslave, but his songs go back much further then that with their roots in political anthems as old as this country.  He is not trying to be a chart topper and during a time when the country is divided or disillusioned with politics he is not afraid to take a direct approach and express his feelings which I am sure many people who enjoy his rapid fire riffing will avoid. 

This EP goes a even a step further by giving all of it's sales towards so Morello is putting potential proceeds where his mouth and heart is.  The more pressing question for this review is, what about the tunes? 

Well The Nightwatchman started out almost exclusively acoustic, but has gradually started adding electric flourishes to get his point across; this EP is mostly stripped down and focuses on some old songs that have been floating in and out of Union Halls for the last 95+ years.  The title track however is a Morello original (and standout on the EP) that opens with a wah-wah fuzz riff announcing a flaring sense of daring before the acoustic 6 string comes in and the message follows "If you come to strip our rights away/we'll give you hell every time/Cause this is Union Town!". 

Then Tom dips into history books to break out "Solidarity Forever" by Ralph Chaplin using "The Battle Hymn of The Republic" as template and exulting Union pride over piano plunks and a marching snare, then dips into bleakness with the Kentucky Coal Miner anthem, "Which Side Are You?".  The backing tracks everywhere are sturdy and simplistic; never distracting from the message, but never boring either.  The limiting factor here are Morello's vocals, while delivering a fierce message and amping up the fist raised masses he is more then admirable like on the Woody Guthrie classic "This Land Is Your Land?" (banned verses included) but when he goes for emotional effect on "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill" and "16 Tons" things aren't as successful.  Safe to say this version of "16 Tons" won't replace Tennessee Ernie Ford's classic cover version, but Morello isn't really going for studio perfection here as heard on his ripping live track taken from this February's Wisconsin Union demonstrations, "Union Song".  He is here to spread his message and if you don't like it that's fine...he will just keep on singing, marching and protesting for the working man.        

So it is Travers week and I will be heading upstate to join the festivities, such as drinking great beers for charity and hanging with family and friends.  I have spoke in the past of my family still living up in the area and that is where today's review comes into play.  No we didn't all travel to go see Rage Against The Machine together...(all though I did catch them back in 96 on the Evil Empire Tour and it is still one of the best shows I have ever seen) but we did all live in a very Pro Union household.  I have heard these songs The Nightwatchman are singing on this EP since I could walk (well obvious exception being the 3 originals) and these kind of tracks as well as Irish folk music were the first tunes I can remember as a child.  I thoroughly enjoy the songs presented here, even if I have maybe heard better versions else.  The time I first knew of Morello going solo was when I actually walked into one of his free shows on my block in NYC no less. 

It was during the Republican National Convention in New York City back in 2004, I had just moved into my new apartment and there was really very little notice of the Republicans in town, but wouldn't you know it there was a stage on my block set up one afternoon (by the union UNITE if I remember correctly).  While I was walking home from work in my suit looking like a cheap hustler I had to stop.  Then I heard some song playing and realized I knew the guy, it was Tom Morello going to town on an acoustic guitar, I stuck around and heard him play some Guthrie and "Road I Must Travel"
It was pretty cool back then and remains pretty cool is fresh to hear direct expression through music at times, which brings up another point...I have no problem with people expressing their beliefs through song even if I don't agree with them. 

It always boggles my mind when I hear people complain about things like "I bought a ticket for the music, not for some guy to preach his beliefs at me" especially in an age where it is pretty easy to find out pre-purchase what slant you are going to get, or simply go to have a coke and smile and shut the fuck up during that tune.  The Eddie Vedder Bush Mask situation
 or CSNY '06 Freedom of Speech Tour both come to mind.  I have no problem with anyone expressing their views, political, spiritual, emotional...hell that is what all music is!!!  Why people get so worked up over politics and music mixing especially I will never know.  Anyway, enough ranting, look for the Union Label and listen to these tracks from Tom, I am looking forward to his newest full length released soon, and looking to chat with PaDukes this weekend....
"Union Town"
"Solidarity Forever"
And as a bonus a ripping "Ghost of Tom Joad" with Bruce:

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