By Mark Guarino
What happens when you channel a serious amount of rage into an acoustic guitar?
The results are evident on “One Man Revolution” (Sony), the debut solo album from Tom Morello, the guitarist behind politico-rockers Rage Against the Machine and its less socially inclined postscript, Audioslave. In the guise of The Nightwatchman, Morello returns to protest music’s original roots: vocals, acoustic guitar, the occasional splash of harmonica and piano. This hushed album is not as nuanced as the music implies. To ensure everyone gets what he’s after, Morello’s songs take great pains to make its primary message — the triumph of individualism over adversarial forces — ring with clarity. They are meant to move the masses but their broad strokes often blunt the music’s rough edges.
Despite never having sung before, Morello’s dark, husky vocals are nicely suited for the lyrics — solemn pledges best suited for rallying large crowds (“if you take a step towards freedom/it’ll take two steps towards you”). Morello, who grew up in Libertyville, makes the strongest impact when hooked into foreboding imagery. “California’s Dark” has the same spooky quality of Bruce Springsteen’s migrants in “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” He is no less inflamed on the acoustic guitar as he is typically on the electric — on most of these songs, Morello charges forward as if fronting a large rock band. Despite a retread of ideas implied by the more static song titles (“Let Freedom Ring,” “Battle Hymns”), the album borrows its best idea from The Pogues. Bagpipes and a group chorus liven “The Road I Must Travel,” making it a march towards enlightenment accompanied by infectious good cheer.