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In the Studio: Tom Morello

July 29, 2008 8:45 AM ET

Fifteen months ago, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello officially debuted a new persona, the Nightwatchman, an acoustic-guitar-and-harmonica-wielding protest singer with a deep baritone. This fall, the Nightwatchman returns with The Fabled City, 11 songs of politically charged folk recorded in eight days with producer Brendan O'Brien.

Unlike on 2007's stripped-down One Man Revolution, Morello and O'Brien created bigger, more eclectic arrangements for the new album — which also features vocal spots from Serj Tankian and country rocker Shooter Jennings. "It definitely rocks harder than the first one," Morello says.

Writing the songs for The Fabled City was a cathartic experience for Morello, who channeled his grief about the recent deaths of his aunt and uncle into the lyrics. "This album is a search for hope through music," Morello says. The song "Saint Isabelle," which eulogizes his aunt, draws heavily from Celtic music. "Irish rebel music makes for great fighting songs," he says.

Political-protest tunes remain the core of the Nightwatchman material. "Night Falls" documents a union uprising in the guitarist's childhood home of Marseilles, Illinois, while "Midnight in the City of Destruction" is a first-person account of surviving Hurricane Katrina. "I lost my grandfather, two neighbors and my friend," Morello sings. "I pray that God himself will come and drown the president if the levees break again."

Morello — currently playing festivals with Rage — is psyched to bring some of that energy to his solo tour this fall. "I feel comfortable now playing not only the creepy, dark acoustic songs but also cranking it up on the electric," he says. "That'll definitely be part of the tour."

[From Issue 1058 — August 7, 2008]

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Song Stories

“Vicious”

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Opening Lou Reed's 1972 solo album, the hard-riffing "Vicious" actually traces its origin back to Reed's days with the Velvet Underground. Picking up bits and pieces of songs from the people and places around him, and filing his notes for later use, Reed said it was Andy Warhol who provided fuel for the song. "He said, 'Why don't you write a song called 'Vicious,'" Reed told Rolling Stone in 1989. "And I said, 'What kind of vicious?' 'Oh, you know, vicious like I hit you with a flower.' And I wrote it down literally."

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