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Music Review: Street Sweeper Social Club – The Ghetto Blaster EP

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Tom Morello has been a busy man in the 10 years since rap rock heroes Rage Against The Machine went its separate ways. The first half he spent using his big-sounding guitars to rock the hugely successful hard rock supergroup Audioslave, with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell as frontman and his fellow ex-RATM rhythm section members Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk on bass and drums, respectively.

A few years ago, he quieted down and recorded an album (One Man Revolution) for his Billy Bragg-inspired political and protest folk project, The Nightwatchman. And in the past few years, he and his old RATM mates even found time to do a series of reunion gigs across the world.

It was while touring his folk project that he met up and jammed live with Raymond “Boots” Riley, emcee of veteran Oakland political hip-hop duo The Coup. In 2009, they recorded as Street Sweeper Social Club and released their self-titled debut, billed as “revolutionary party jams” to somewhat mixed but mostly positive reviews.

Released this past week, the follow-up is the seven-song Ghetto Blaster EP, out just in time for SSSC’s August performances at select dates on the Vans Warped Tour and the Rock The Bells Festival with Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan and other acclaimed rap acts.

Compared to Morello’s previous singers (Cornell and Rage’s Zack de La Rocha), as smooth as he is as an emcee, Riley is the least intense and most tame frontman he’s ever worked with. And as a result, Riley’s rhymes and flow didn’t always work and match up with the guitarist’s fiery riffs and rhythms on the ’09 debut, but was done well enough for a majority of it.

“Promenade” was the biggest highlight on it, with its bouncy beats and Morello’s trademark whacky, whammy pedal-powered six-string solos, some of his best and most expansive ones in recent memory. On the new EP, it gets a remix treatment, even though it wasn’t necessary, and quite frankly doesn’t sound much different from the original track.

On the rest of Ghetto Blaster, Riley’s rhymes and lyrics are sharper and have more bite this time around, matching the Rage-like riffs and militant drumming on songs like “Everythang,” a remake of a 2001 The Coup track. More Rage Against The Machine-era grooves can be found on the lyrically violent title track (where Riley yells to “pull the trigger,” among other things).

The LL Cool J cover of “Mama Said Knock You Out,” isn’t and can never be as golden as the original but is a fine, pure party starter meant to be rocked live.

The star of this release though is the much raved about cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” (which itself is heavily built around a sample of the The Clash’s “Straight To Hell”). First performed last year while supporting the NINJA tour (Nine Inch Nails & Jane’s Addiction), the live set highlight finally gets a studio treatment here. This full band version, with Riley’s dynamic rap style, Morello’s heavy, crunchy guitars and dreamy octave-chord solo makes for one of the coolest cover songs in recent memory.

In all, The Ghetto Blaster EP is a step up from SSSC’s ’09 debut. Hey, even Morello and Riley think so themselves. So if you don’t mind a little social commentary mixed in with party rhymes, raps and the type of signature rockin’ guitar grooves and whacked out solos you’ve come to expect of Tom Morello, grab this one in time for your next house party.

SSSC can be seen and heard on its Twitter and Myspace pages.

Bonus: Check out the band’s very recent live cover of “Paper Planes” on Lopez Tonight from a couple of weeks back HERE.

Photo Credit: Romy Suskin

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.
  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Their debut album was decent and they are good live but I don’t get why if Tom wants to go this route he doesn’t just record with Rage.

  • Charlie Doherty

    I’m with you there, El Bicho. I can just imagine the types of ferocious raps Zack could’ve done with songs like the title track “Ghetto Blaster,” which sounds sort of like a Battle of Los Angeles-era track to me.

    I don’t know but I assume that Morello would love to do another RATM album and tour, but I think it’s Zack that doesn’t want to go back to the band full-time.