Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman
World Wide Rebel Songs
New West Records

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Tom Morello playing the acoustic guitar is like Michael Jordan leaving basketball to play minor league baseball. It’s not that Morello is destined to be on the Mount Rushmore of guitarists, but as an electric guitarist he’s forged an undeniable style and influenced a generation of guitarists through his Whammy-slamming work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Thankfully, on his third solo albumWorld Wide Rebel Songs, The Nightwatchman (Morello’s acoustic Johnny-Cash-meets-Che-Guevara alter ego) embraces his amplified roots and tracks with his touring band, the Freedom Fighter Orchestra. This ensemble adds much-needed firepower to Morello’s pro-union, freedom-for-all anthems.

From the opening licks of “It Begins Tonight”—a fiery Audioslave “Cochise”- style riff on steroids—you instantly know this isn’t the same workingman troubadour. The song’s solo has the Grammy-winning guitarist going back to his wah-tastic ways creating a solo fit for Evil Empire-era RATM. The album’s first single, “Save the Hammer for the Man,” features soulful keyboard laced with steadfast strumming by Morello and guest guitarist Ben Harper. The song climaxes with dueling solos: Harper on lap steel and Morello working his pedalboard pyrotechnics. “Stray Bullets” depicts embittered American soldiers in Iraq accompanied by Morello’s version of Duane Eddy twang. Fist-pumping songs like “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” and “World Wide Rebel Songs” offer a familiar Nightwatchman-esque folk-rock vibe with sing-along choruses and vigorous strumming on his “Whatever It Takes” Ibanez Galvador nylon-string. Slowpaced tracks like the sparse, remorseful “God Save Us All” and the downtrodden warning of “The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse” counterweigh the album’s bombastic rockers.

The instrumentation and compositions onWorld Wide Rebel Songsshow off Morello’s abilities as an electric wizard and a soulful singer-songwriter, and the music’s dynamic range makes this the most muscular, well-rounded Nightwatchman album yet.