CD Review of Carry On / One Man Revolution by Chris Cornell / The Nightwatchman

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Buy your copy from Chris Cornell:
Carry On
starstarstarstarno star Label: Suretone Records
Released: 2007
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Buy your copy from The Nightwatchman:
One Man Revolution
starstarno starno starno star Label: Epic Records
Released: 2007
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Plenty successful in their own right back in the ‘90s with, respectively, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine, Chris Cornell and Tom Morello hardly rested on their laurels after both of those mega-bands dissolved. The Cornell-fronted Audioslave was spawned in 2001 and proceeded to kick equal ass and notch three exceptional studio albums, something that none of their peers were able to accomplish over the same brief period. But like “The King of Queens,” Google at $100 a share, and free Ozzfest tickets, the supergroup Audioslave, too, is now extinct. With both Cornell and Morello serving up solo records in relatively short order, one could assume the band’s recent split was only breaking news outside of the tour bus walls.

For his part, Morello has been writing and performing under the Nightwatchman moniker for nearly four years. In fact, even during Audioslave tour stops, the Nightwatchman would pop up in local pubs, open-mic nights, and liberal coffee houses for impromptu performances of One Man Revolution songs. Following in the anti-oppression footsteps of musical activists like Woody Guthrie and Billy Bragg, Morello parks his Rolling Stone-ranked #26 best rock guitar of all time in favor of a lone six-string acoustic and accompanies it with Steve Earle-like attitude and an eerily dead-on Tom Waits vocal. “Found a noose in my garage, well how ‘bout that / So tonight I’m in the bushes, with a baseball bat,” he gravels on the title track, with a take-up-your-arms-and-follow-me posture that has served him well at Republican National Convention protests and performances for Axis of Justice (the social activist organization he co-founded with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian).

His solo acoustic strumming within One Man Revolution is hushed and controlled, even as the themes are anything but. A decidedly “My Hometown”-esque piano riff that Springsteen would be proud of resonates through “Let Freedom Ring,” and the Pogues could have penned “The Road I Must Travel,” a boisterous Irish march thick with bagpipes. It’s the only song on the disc that employs a full band. Unfortunately, there are too many yawners here that could have benefited mightily from full-band accompaniment. “The Garden of Gethsemane” and “No One Left” display painfully the monotony of an entirely acoustic project. What works in front of 150 drunks in a karaoke bar doesn’t necessarily translate well to CD, whether you agree with the angry anti-government subject matter being force-fed here or not.

If anyone has cause for pulling in his horns and toning down his heavy metal approach it’s Chris Cornell, now a happily-married resident of France and new daddy. Fortunately for anyone who knew and loved him as the frontman for Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave, Cornell stays true to form with Carry On. The first single, “No Such Thing,” explodes in Stone Temple Pilots fashion, with a wall of guitars and thundering rhythm section. It should come as no surprise that this solo band is tight as bark on a tree, since he’s been traveling as a four-piece the past several months working up this material. “Poison Eye” and “Arms Around Your Love” are first-time-listen favorites that stack up to most anything from the Audioslave catalog.

While it can be argued that covering Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” is never a good idea for a guy with Seattle grunge pedigree, the result is not bad – a slow, sinister take on the Top 40 classic. Speaking of chart-toppers, the Top 10 hit in Europe and “Casino Royale” theme song “You Know My Name” finds its way on the end of the album, following the beautiful “Disappearing Act,” which should remind fans of another soundtrack cut in Cornell’s vault (“Sunshower,” from 1997’s “Great Expectations”).

Cornell has enough raw pipes and rock & roll frontman bravado to carry him through any career change. Lord knows, his near-two decade résumé is hard, fast proof. Morello, on the other hand, suffers the curse of “the guitarist” and must ultimately decide if he wants to pursue political activism and attempt to do “whatever it takes” (as his guitar etching reads) or remain a legitimate, albeit underappreciated, hard rock icon. His songs on this Revolution have all of Rage’s, well, rage, yet not near enough of his bandmate’s musicianship to Carry On.

~Red Rocker