The singer/songwriter has always been an important niche in the music world. Much like the grunts on the front line, they move and shake the world’s foundations. From the early 20th century Tin Pan Alley tales to the working man’s anthems of Woody Guthrie all the way to the present, singer/songwriters have played a cordial role in shaping the world. It’s interesting to see once in a while however when a musician steps out of the box that they’ve created and perform something completely opposite of their former selves. This is the case in point for Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello.
Under his alter-ego The Nightwatchman, Morello takes a backwards approach from his erratic and unique guitar style in an effort to move forward musically with his songwriting skills. While it is quite a stark departure from his earlier efforts with both respectful bands, Morello really does shine as not only a songwriter, but with a gifted voice and approach to storytelling on his second record The Fabled City.
The album begins with the title track, “The Fabled City”, which is rawer than anything Morello has recorded. Thanks to producer Brendan O’Brien, the album has a gritty, truthful feel to it, which only helps Morello’s overall execution of his storytelling. Morello’s vocals are incredibly deep and powerful, but gentle enough not to awake the sleeping giant he creates in his songs. Lyrically he’s pretty spot on regarding the troubles of human life and the rejection of peaceful dreams as stated in the chorus,”I’ve seen the fabled city/Its streets are paved with gold/But an iron fence runs ’round it/And its iron gate is closed.”
‘Whatever It Takes” follows afterward which puts Morello’s songwriting much more forward. Starting with a riff the band jams on throughout the song, the instrumentation that follows is impressive. While this song bounces and weaves, Morello takes his political charge to the full extreme and recounts horrid tales and actions all in the name of whatever it takes to get the job done.
The rest of the album is chock full of good tunes and great melodies, such as “The King Of Hell,” “The Lights Are On In Spidertown” and with one of the highlights being “Lazarus On Down” which features System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankien. While Morello crafts wonderful songs and melodies, his biggest flaw throughout the record is his subtle ability to keep in tune with the songs. While his voice has a crooning, deep quality to it, from time to time it stretches a bit out of key with the songs, such as the chorus in “Midnight In The City Of Destruction.” Morello’s never been known for being a singer, so it’s unfair to completely judge his singing style, but in the terms of constructive criticism, Morello could sift through his vocals with a fine tuned comb to make the overall quality that much better.
One of the last highlights regarding The Fabled City is the duet he performs on, “The Iron Wheel” with country star Shooter Jennings. Morello’s voice sounds incredibly strong here and showcases one of his finest outings throughout the record. For his second record, The Nightwatchman works harder to keep his dreams alive and to push his boundaries for freedom and justice to the furthest reaches of space. While there are a few missteps along the journey, the battleground is still vast and large. For Tom Morello, his sights are set higher for the next adventure and for the next tale to be told.
“The Fabled City (Live)”