Personnel: Tom Morello (vocals, guitar, mandolin, harmonica); Carl Restivo (guitar, keyboards, background vocals); Jonny Polonsky (toy piano); Chris Joyner (keyboards); Eric Gardner (drums); Dave Gibbs, Anne Preven (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Tom Tapley.
Recording information: Veritas Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
Photographer: Sean Ricigliano.
Arranger: Tom Morello.
Tom Morello's doppelganger the Nighwatchman issues World Wide Rebel Songs hot on the heels of his benefit EP Union Town. Rather than play solo as on previous offerings, he fronts a rock quintet. This is marching music. If you don't like your music political, where songs address class, race, and rage that comes from hopelessness, this isn't for you. That said, personal responsibility and accountability are paramount in Morello's universe. The album's first single, "Save the Hammer for the Man," a midtempo, anthemic, electric/acoustic number co-written with Ben Harper (who guests on it), is an admonition to those who've decided enough is enough, to focus their radical actions at those truly responsible. The music, layered with popping martial drums, rock-solid basslines, beautifully balanced acoustic and electric guitars, match the plain-spoken yet poetic forcefulness of Morello's language. The opening "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine," in its stop-and-start, half-chanted, half-sung lyric, reminds listeners that history is made by people, not power brokers. (And historical analysis reveals this to be largely true.) Morello's view is international -- check the songs "The Dogs of Tijuana" and the brooding "Facing Mount Kenya"; they assert that class war is being asserted globally -- and needs to be fought with that in mind. This band rocks on the furious "It Begins Tonight." "Speak and Make Lightning" is a stomping two-step; its "love covers all sins" conclusion may be surprising, but love is exposed as a powerful motivating factor throughout the album and seems to be inspired not only by the logic of his heart, but by an important historical figure with the same view -- Guevara: "Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.") Narrative songs are balanced by anthems throughout, with the haunting "The Whirlwind" and country-punk of "Stray Bulletts" illuminated by the crackling title track, and the scorching electric "Union Town" close the disc. As a songwriter, Morello's grown exponentially: he's tighter and he gets his points across without cynicism or naivete. He extends the topical (political) folk song tradition into the 21st century musically and lyrically. His arrangements and production -- large backing choruses, only-what's-necessary instrumentation, and clean, live-sounding sonics -- allow his songs to breathe fire into the questions, illuminating them clearly. World Wide Rebel Songs, is, without question, a welcome call to arms. ~ Thom Jurek
Rolling Stone (p.78) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[The album] includes Rage-style agit-metal....Guthrie-esque romanticism bumps up against uncertainty..."
Rolling Stone (p.71) - Ranked #30 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "It's working-class storytelling and roots-minded songcraft hot-wired by a master mechanic."
Spin (p.86) - "Alternately crooning and snarling, Morello commits to the aggro gospel of 'Speak and Make Lightning'..."
Alternative Press (p.116) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he addition of electric instruments and Morello's nasal speak-singing do make REBEL SONGS read a little like a radicalized Dylan..."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.99) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Morello's mission this time appears to be to entertain as much as to educate....This is protest music that you can actually enjoy."