The Nightwatchman

One Man Revolution (Epic)

While he shows formidable skill with drop-D riffs and fuzzbox solos, Tom Morello clearly hasn't spent much time manipulating words on a page. The Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist takes a noble stab at Billy Bragg-esque proletariat folk under his Nightwatchman moniker, but the results too often feel like slapdash cribbings from the Alan Lomax library. If we trusted Morello, we'd need only clumsy Biblical allusions ("I know it's a fact/ that Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the apostle Paul were black") and dramatic countdown lyrics ("Ten letters I am writing ... nine circles I am drawing, etc.") to make a good activist anthem.

So, yes, this erstwhile six-string savant is a tremendously green songwriter. But if you can get past the cringeworthy moments of One Man Revolution, you'll find a record with a lot of sincerity. Morello's deep voice booms with indictments of the Bush administration and whispers laments of class stratification, while Brendan O'Brien's spare production gives songs legs when needed (delicate piano on "Let Freedom Ring," bagpipes and drums on "The Road I Must Travel"). Mostly O'Brien leaves these tracks unadorned, though, letting the rough-shod performance deliver a resonance that Morello's words do not. John Vettese

 
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